Tag Archives: parenting

Teachers: What Life is All About


I was talking with a wise friend a few days ago and I heard him say,  “Life is all about big people helping little people become big people.”  He didn’t take credit for the quote.  He said he had heard it somewhere.  But the simplicity and the truth of that statement has been resonating in me for several days.  That one sentence defines teaching, parenting, mentoring, coaching, and a wide variety of other professions and important roles we play.

When I wrote my first book for teachers, I was working with a publisher who kept sending me book cover ideas seeking my approval.  But none of the covers seemed to speak to the message the true classroom stories in the book conveyed.  I was embarrassed to be taking up so much of their time, being picky.  I sat down in a preschool classroom with preschool scissors and construction paper.  I cut and pasted a design in 20 minutes sitting at chair and table suitable for a 4-year-old.  I sent it off to the publisher with a note that said, “I’m seeing something more like this.”  I’m not an artist of any kind.  I expected them to take my hastily made sample and design something professional.  But they made the front of the book by simply scanning my 20 minute design onto the cover and adding the title.  At first I was embarrassed about it because I have no artistic skills.  But then I realized it did convey a message.  Why was it effective?  Because it says, in simple graphic fashion almost exactly what my friend said to me. “Life is about big people helping little people become big people.”  (Throw in an apple to make it teacher specific).

book cover

 Yes, teachers teach academics.  Yes, teachers work to raise test scores and reading comprehension.  But too frequently the media and other outside critics forget one of the most important roles a teacher fills.  We teach little people how to become big people. We teach about living life with character.  We teach about ways to problem solve and adapt in times of change.  We teach tolerance and acceptance.  We teach little people how to use positive self talk to push them forward toward a dream when they are no longer in our classroom. We teach them about the rewards of utilizing initiative and perseverance and also the consequences of procrastination.

Of course the real truth is that the words big and little are relative.  Some people who are big have much to learn from little people.  I have learned some of my life’s most important lessons from my students.  Some of the ones who have struggled the most with academics have taught me the most about teaching.  They taught me that until I can explain something in a way that they can understand it, I am not teaching. Others with behavior challenges have taught me to continually hone my skills of patience.  I can de-escalate the hairyiest of situations.  Still others have been happy to point out my shortcomings, not always inaccurately.  They helped me learn some uncomfortable truths about myself.  Usually it is the littlest ones who best understand both enthusiasm and tolerance.  Little ones have taught me the most about unqualified acceptance and the simple joys of living.  My teens remind me to continue to fight injustices.  They possess the optimism of youth.  They believe they can change unfair things so they go out and fight battles I have long ago given up as impossible.  One time, with zero encouragement from me, a group of them took on an impossible battle on my (and their) behalf.  And they won.  I’ll never forget it.

Life IS about big people, helping little people become big people.  And vice versa.  We are all in this together. It works best when we use one another to learn life’s most important lessons.  But using test scores as the only measurement of success for the teaching profession is like writing a fairy tale and only saying, “Once upon a time…” and stopping there.

Let’s get clear about this.  Test scores alone will not make our students live happily ever after.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

Available in large quantities from the author:  dauna@cinci.rr.com

Also available at Amazon.com

Contact Dauna Easley to speak to your group:  dauna@cinci.rr.com



two dadsTime Matters

Unfortunately children and students spell the word love  T-I-M-E.  Nothing is more valuable to them than your time. Though it may seem that the only thing they crave is the latest electronic device, what they really want most is your attention.  Remember: ninety percent of the time they spend on electronic devices connects them to people.  Simple translation?  The more time you spend with them, the more they believe you care about them.  This can be good and bad news.  Time seems to be what busy teachers and parents possess least.  Unfortunately there is no substitute.  We have to be diligent and creative about finding that time to spend with them.

robe dayA Special Request

My daughter, Kelsey, used to request a “robe day”.  Usually when we cleaned the house we’d turn up the music really loudly, stay in our robes and clean together.  When the music served up an especially favorite song we might boogie together.  But in Kelsey’s world “robe day” meant that mom wasn’t going anywhere…no work or errands… (you don’t leave the house in your robe)…just time together.  I learned that when she requested a robe day she needed my presence and that’s what I gave her.

parentingMy teacher friend, Barb, went through an especially busy time helping her husband while he was president of a national professional organization.  At the end of a busy year she thanked her children for their patience and asked the two of them what special things they would like to do.  Her son came up with a list of specific outings that he desired, but her younger daughter, Aimee, simply said,  “Mom, remember when we used to water the flowers together?  That’s what I want to do, just you and I watering flowers together.”  I’ve never forgotten that one simple request.  While we race around in our career trying to provide material items we think our children crave, what they really want most is simply our time.

How Can Teachers Find Time?

teachersFor teachers, finding this one-on-one time can be especially challenging.  Greeting each student as they enter the classroom is a start, but real connections require so much more.  In a high school setting I’ve learned that invariably certain students will figure out when my plan period or lunch time is and somehow just start showing up.  It’s hard not to think, “I need this time to answer emails or run to the copy machine.”  Because, in fact, it seems like these days the pressure we face to post each grade and syllabus online promptly, robs us of one-on-one time with our students.  As much as possible I fight the urge to spend my planning time serving the computer instead of providing a listening ear to my students.

taking a closer look at schools

Rapport, especially a trusting one, unfortunately takes time.  A student will show up unannounced with seemingly no agenda several times before s/he trusts you enough to talk to you about what is really on his/her mind.  Field trips are another good way to connect.  I’ve had some of my best discussions with students on a long bus ride or in a hotel room spending the night at a competition.  Outside the classroom the teacher seems more like a mentor and less like someone who averages grades.

baseball is lifeOther Ways to Connect

Speaking of outside the classroom, I try to attend sports events, drama productions and graduation parties to which I am invited.  I’ve gone to dance recitals, sign language concerts, gymnastics meets, winter guard showcases, bar mitzvahs, reunions, movies, showers and weddings.  Why?  A relationship doesn’t start and stop at the classroom door.  The time within the classroom walls just isn’t enough to develop the ongoing relationships I want to have with my students.  We can’t put more hours into a day, but we can think in creative ways to use that time well.

A few years ago our high school was in the state baseball championship.  I took my grandson (who was a young baseball player) and drove two hours to the state capital to see it.  In that way I spent quality time with my grandson while also supporting the efforts of my students.  My young granddaughters and husband go with me to drama productions and color guard showcases.  I get to see my students excelling in a non academic arena and spend time showing my grandchildren an extra curricular activity in which they may want to participate when they are older.  Guess what?  My grandson is now a varsity baseball player making plans to play college baseball.  My oldest granddaughter is in high school color guard and winter guard and another granddaughter is on the school gymnastics team.

Unfortunately we can’t put more hours in a day, but we can think outside the clock and look for winning ways to make time for all whom we love and want to encourage.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

Available autographed or in large quantities from the author:  dauna@cinci.rr.com

Also available at Amazon.com

A Lesson for Teachers


                        From Caterpillars to Butterflies

the teacher learns


Jennifer walked into my early childhood education class in her senior year planning to fail.  No, she didn’t announce this goal to me or to the class.  I guess you could say it was a secret goal, but she had her strategy all mapped out.  She even knew exactly when she was going to fail; November.  I had exactly two months to change the course of her destiny, but she didn’t even give me the benefit of telling me this.

The Countdown

graphShe was busy stacking all the evidence (data) to support her decision to fail.  It was powerful data, hard to ignore.  In her sophomore and junior years she had been absent over thirty days each year.  At this time in our state she was required to pass proficiency tests in four subject areas in order to prove she had the ability level of at least a ninth grader or she would not receive a high school diploma even if she had passed all her classes.  Though she had taken these tests twice a year since the ninth grade, she had continued to fail three of the four every time.  Neither of her parents had graduated from high school and they wanted her to graduate because they knew what if felt like to go through life without a high school diploma.  However, without any serious illness, they still allowed her to stay home more than thirty days per year.  In November Jennifer would be eighteen and she would no longer need her parents’ signature to drop out.  In November she would be out the door and I wasn’t even aware of the plan.  Even worse, the class I taught was in early childhood education.  Jennifer wanted to work in a child care setting with young children.  In our state you have to earn a high school diploma to do that.  Why had she signed up for my class if she had no chance to graduate?  The answer was simple.  She had to spend those two months somewhere.  But by November the charade would be over.

A Plan Thwarted

the U turn

Here’s how the U turn happened.  As soon as I found out Jennifer still needed to pass three of the four proficiency tests, I signed her up for tutoring sessions every day of the week.  No, she didn’t want to go.  She argued long and hard about the futility of it.  Hadn’t she already proven six times that it was impossible for her to pass those tests?  But I refused to allow her to skip those tutoring sessions. However hard she complained and dragged her feet, I still insisted she attend.  She went for tutoring during a portion of my class and during her lunch break, crabbing about it every step of the way.

I had another really lucky break.  In this particular school where I was teaching at the time, we had a significant number of at-risk kids.  With this type of enrollment one of the silly things that I noticed was that a substantial number of them failed to come on the first few days of school.  They would just pretend that they didn’t know when school started.  This behavior baffled me, because when I was growing up it seemed like everyone enjoyed the first few days of school.

But for whatever reason in this particular class everyone showed up for the first three days of school.  The first week was a short week of only three days.  I made a really big deal of having perfect attendance for a whole week.  I can’t remember the specific treat I brought in, but they really loved it.  Somehow this group of students latched on to that humble success and started seeing how long they could go with the whole class having perfect attendance. They really put pressure on one another not to break that chain.  It was a lucky break for me and Jennifer.  I don’t know if I could even recreate this set of circumstances.  I rewarded them every Friday with a treat and talked it up all around the school bragging about them to others when I knew my students could hear me.


blue ribbon

At the end of the first quarter at our awards program I asked our administrator to make a big deal out of their attendance.  He had the whole class stand up and told everyone in the packed room (full of their peers from other programs)  that this was what “perfect” looked like.  I’ll never forget that line.  The members of my class were far from perfect, but they had managed to accumulate perfect attendance for a full quarter.  They just beamed.  I’m certain Jennifer had never had the benefit of going to school regularly in her whole life.

In October Jennifer retook those three proficiency tests.  She wouldn’t find out the results until December.  She decided not to drop out until she had gotten those results.  So without my knowing about the plan to fail, I was given a one month’s reprieve.  Just before the holiday break, she found out she had passed two of the three tests!  Encouraged but still wary she quietly decided to stay until March when she would have just one more chance to pass that final test.   She continued to go for tutoring, but by now she could concentrate all her efforts on just one subject in which she was still deficient.

Let the Magic Begin

That extra time gave us the window for magic to take hold. Buoyed with her successes and reinforced with perfect attendance, Jennifer’s self esteem started to bloom.  She put together a project and competed in the regional competition and won.  She advanced to state competition and won.  In February my class began their final senior project.  Each student was required to put together a plan for an entire school.  Jennifer latched onto this project of planning a child care center with a commitment she had never shown in school before.  She named her child care facility From Caterpillars to Butterflies.  The project was outstanding in every way.  Step by step she poured all of her creativity into the project.  She drew a floor plan, wrote a philosophy, created a marketing strategy that included a logo and a slogan, developed an inventory and made a tri-fold display board about her school.   Her project was voted the best all around by hundreds of visitors who came to see our finished projects on display. Jennifer, the loser, became Jennifer the star.  Her peers looked to her for advice on their projects.

Becoming a Butterfly

She found out in early May that she had passed her final proficiency test she had taken in March.  She would be graduating with all of her peers, despite her total intention to fail when she first walked into my room.  How do I know all this?  In May she told me all about her original plan.  During our end of the year program with parents, employers and advisory council members in the audience, I gave Jennifer a small butterfly decoration.  I told everyone how I had watched Jennifer change from a caterpillar into a butterfly during that school year. (Just like the process she had named her child care facility).  She and her family were very touched.

On graduation night, during the graduation ceremony someone tapped me on my shoulder.  I ignored the tap.  I thought it was going to be one of my students asking to leave the ceremony to go to the restroom and I didn’t want to honor that request.  But the tap was repeated and over my shoulder was passed a flower arrangement from Jennifer’s mother and a card from Jennifer.  Inside the card Jennifer had included a butterfly necklace for me to wear.  She had also written me a poem.  I never saw Jennifer after the graduation ceremony.  I suppose the family had graduation celebration plans they had to rush off to implement, or perhaps Jennifer was too emotional for even a good-by hug. But the necklace and the poem brought tears to my eyes.  Though the poem is very simplistic its words touched my deeply.  I have recited its words to teacher audiences many times when I speak.

spreading wingsThe best teacher for me would be

The wonderful Mrs. Easley.

She listened as I talked

She even pushed me as I walked.

She pushed me to my limit

I didn’t even know I had it.

I was going nowhere and fast

I thought I’d never last.

I kept remembering failures of my past.

She turned my life around.

Now I might be college bound.

How do I repay something like this?

I keep remembering her words…

The lectures I’m going to miss.

Now because of her I believe

That “teacher” means much more to me.

A Question and a Challenge

How could a young woman who was two months away from dropping out of school write words I would be happy to have on my headstone when I die?

She listened as I talked

She even pushed me as I walked.

What teacher wouldn’t be honored to have a student write those words about her?

But there are two other lines in that poem that should scare every teacher in America.

She pushed me to my limit

I didn’t even know I had it.

How and why would a young lady in America make it all the way to her senior year in high school without even really knowing that she “had it?”  Jennifer had the ability all along.  Isn’t that our main job as teachers?  We have to reveal for students that they “have it” within them to succeed.

We must push them to their limit until they realize that they have it.

I learned that from a poem written by an 18-year-old girl who was two months away from walking away from an education.  Those are her words.  We must listen.

TEACH...To Change Lives

Jennifer’s story and many others…

plus classroom activity ideas to build success in life for our students…

 are in my newest book for teachers.

TEACH…To Change Lives.

Available at Amazon.com

Father’s Day


An Everyday Father’s Day

Kelsey and DadIt didn’t happen on Father’s Day, but it defined a father’s love better than any other small moment in my life.

From a very young age our daughter, Kelsey had to endure a significant number of hospital stays. She was very brave about these hospital interludes and accepted them with a calm far beyond her years.  However following that trying period in her life, she was left with one residual inconvenient trait.  Every time someone left and said good-by to her, she would cry.  It was quite emotional and baffling to her, but I think in a subconscious way she connected the experience of someone ‘leaving’ for any reason, back to those scary hospital times. She talked to me privately about it.  I comforted her and reassured her she would eventually outgrow it.

During this time my husband had to go to Atlanta for business for a week.  We decided to make it into a family mini vacation by flying to Atlanta with him and spending the weekend together.  But when the weekend was over it meant that Kelsey and I had to fly back home for work and school, leaving Dad in Atlanta.

The Good-by Wave

Father's DayThe airport good-by was emotional, but Kelsey tried her best to maintain her composure.  She didn’t want to cry in public.  To help her through the transition her dad promised to wave from the terminal building when the plane left. However, once she and I were seated on the plane we couldn’t see him. Kelsey quickly figured out the plane would need to move forward for us to see him wave.   But that plane wouldn’t budge.  It was one of those inexplicable Atlanta delays.My daughter started to cry quietly. We sat on the plane for probably thirty minutes not moving forward an inch.  Then finally and without explanation, the plane started to move slowly….backwards.  Kelsey was never one to make scenes but her quiet crying escalated to sobs.  She simply couldn’t choke back her emotions any longer. Over and over again she sobbed, “I want to wave to my dad.”

The atmosphere in that jet was already tense from the delay.  We continued to sit in our new location as the day turned from light to darkness for another agonizing forty-five minutes.  No one knew why.   My daughter  continued to sob repeating her plea to wave to her dad again and again. She and I, of course, both knew he was long gone by now. This was in the days before cell phones so there was no way to call him.  I tried to comfort her or distract her in every way I knew how. The already tense passengers struggled to politely endure the sound of this heart wrenching scene.

Finally, finally, the plane started to taxi forward.  I dreaded when she wouldn’t  see her dad at the  window.  As the concourse came into view it was totally lit, while we were in complete darkness.  It was a sight I will never forget.  There was only one person in the entire illuminated concourse and he was standing right at the window and waving at a dark plane.

That’s when tears also formed in my eyes.  Dad knew and understood the importance of that wave. When that solitary waving dad came into view the passengers surrounding us gasped and broke into spontaneous applause.  Before long the whole plane was applauding.  I like to think the ovation was in tribute to a dad’s love.  I’m not certain that is the only reason everyone on that plane applauded, but it’s the reason I choose to remember.

good-by wave

Happy Father’s Day to Dads Who Remember to Wave