Tag Archives: parents

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

Big Shoes to Fill


Kelsey big shoesI think my daughter was about 3 when I snapped this photo of her.  Look closely at her feet.  You’ll see she is trying on my high heels she found near the front door even though she isn’t even really dressed for the day yet.  Doesn’t every kid do that at one time or another?  My shoes look so big on her feet.  As it turns out, those shoes and that role became her dream.  I’m sure those are the heels I had on as a taught that day.  Kelsey attended the school where I taught, so it wasn’t such a stretch to understand why she wanted to grow up to become a teacher.

But life did a reversal on us and today I try to fill her shoes.  You see, Kelsey was diagnosed with brain cancer when she was only five.  The brain radiation required for her to survive, altered her IQ significantly.  Radiation that kills cancer cells also kills healthy brain cells.  So not only did Kelsey battle cancer she was changed from having an above average intelligence to becoming what society politely calls “special needs.”

Watching this happen to her changed me dramatically as a teacher.  I learned what it feels like to sit on the uncomfortable side (the parents’ side) of the IEP table.  I experienced how it felt to see her friends begin to turn away from her.  I helplessly watched her social loneliness during the high school years.  This changed me as a mom, a person and especially as a teacher.

So what did I do about it?  I’m not a celebrity.  I can’t challenge big stars on TV to dump buckets of ice water over their heads even though watching Kelsey’s battles felt like ice water being dumped on me daily.  Celebrities wouldn’t answer any challenge from me.  Day in and day out, what did I do?  I’m a teacher.  So I talked about Kelsey in my classroom.  I made students understand her battles.  I made them think about what it would feel like to walk in her shoes.

In one way I was very lucky.  I happened to teach high school students who wanted to become teachers.  I assigned each of them to write an essay about what it would feel like to walk through a day of high school with a disability.  I made them put into words what it would feel like to walk into a cafeteria full of typical kids if they had a disability. How would it feel to walk in the hallways or go to a dance?  I made them share those essays out loud.  They hated this assignment because it made them feel so uncomfortable, but they did it…for a grade.  Before they wrote these essays I read an essay that I had written about Kelsey.  I wrote it in Kelsey’s voice even though she didn’t actually write it.  I used exactly the words she had shared with me about the rejections she experienced.  To hear her true story made them squirm in their seats.

When I spoke at teacher conferences, I used to give out my essay to other teachers.  I’ve received letters and emails from teachers all over the country who have used this essay in their classrooms.  The title?  ‘Nobody Wants to Have a Disability, But I Have One.”  I made each of them start their essay with the words, “My name is (and they had to use their own names) and I have (name a disability).  Then they had to write about a full day of school with that disability.  I made them focus on their feelings, not just the facts of the disability.  How did it feel to walk through a day of school with that disability.

As they read these essays orally one after another, I could feel a shift in my classroom.   They hated the activity but they won’t ever forget it.

Then I had my Teacher Academy kids (high school juniors and seniors who wanted to become teachers) start a Friendship Club with the high school kids in our school with disabilities.  We planned monthly shared activities with them.  I watched true friendships form.  No matter what subject they planned to teach in their futures I wanted them to understand how it feels to be excluded.  I wanted all of them to become teachers who included everyone.  I wanted them to change the culture within their future school buildings.  I believe once we actually have to face the feeling of being excluded, once we can link a personality and an actual person to a disability it can’t help but change us inside.

Often I am invited to give speeches to special educators and I enjoy those invitations.  But I MOST like to talk to what we call “regular educators.”  I like to share stories with teachers who haven’t been specifically trained to work with kids with special needs.  Those are the teachers who most need the messages Kelsey shared with me.  I’m a “regular educator” myself and Kelsey experiences first had to change me.

A strange and unexpected thing happened as I shared Kelsey’s message.  This is something I didn’t plan at all.  As a direct result of hearing about Kelsey’s experiences, an amazing number of my students became special educators themselves.  (Today we call them intervention specialists).  Let me repeat, this wasn’t at all my goal, it just happened.  Without even trying I dumped buckets of ice all over them.  Just putting a person’s name and face to the experience drenched them with new understanding.  They now wanted to become change agents themselves.

Kelsey's lessonsSadly Kelsey didn’t live to fill my shoes and become a teacher herself.  She died at age 16 after an eleven year on-and-off battle with brain cancer.  Today I still attempt to fill her shoes as I share her story one student at a time.  We teachers sometimes have more power than a celebrity.  One day at a time, one student at a time, one story at a time, we change the world.  We have the power of a thousand buckets of ice if we just recognze it and use it for a positive purpose.

One day while teaching some aspect of child development in the classroom, I told another story about Kelsey.  A student asked with impatience in her voice, “Why do you talk about Kelsey so much?”

Now you know.  I have big shoes to fill.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

Available autographed or in large quantities from the authordauna@cinci.rr.com

Also available at Amazon.com

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

Questions from Parents


Questions Teachers Hate

Dauna age 8From the time I was eight years old, I knew I wanted to become a teacher.  There were, however,  hurdles along the way.  I was the first person from my family to go to college so my parents couldn’t help me much with advice. But an even bigger challenge loomed.  I didn’t have much money.  In fact I had only enough money to attend college for two years and a teaching degree required four years of study.   Even that money had to be borrowed from the credit union. I was terrified that I would have to drop out of college without finishing;  so I formulated a plan.  My plan was to get a four year degree in two years.  That was a pretty ambitious goal at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.  Miami has a reputation for academic excellence and colleges don’t make classes easy to schedule.  However, without any options and possessing quite a bit of personal drive, that is the path that I chose.

I had just turned twenty when I began teaching in my own classroom.  Some people believed I looked Dauna age 20younger than twenty.  You be the judge.  This is a photo taken of me the year I began teaching.  I had worked hard for my degree and I was as passionate and committed as a young teacher could possibly be.   I remember those days well.  I was so excited about my new role, I even recall missing my third graders when they went outside for a ten minute recess.  More mature teachers learn to look forward to those brief interludes.  But I adored wearing this new role that I had dreamed about for so long.

Parent Teacher Conferences

On conference days I was enthusiastic about sharing all that I knew with parents.  I couldn’t wait to tell them cute stories about their children and give them advice on how to help their children at home with school work.  But soon I started hearing those two dreaded questions.  I grew to hate these annoying questions.

How old are you?   (They would challenge me).

And even more insulting I believed:   Do you have children of your own?

How dare they ask me those questions?!

It felt rude and, frankly, condescending.

Why would they pose such undiplomatic questions?

Then Came the Birth of Understanding

birth of understanding

After seven years of teaching, I had a child of my own.  POW! (As Emeril would say).  The realization began to dawn.  My first-born was a swift and dynamic teacher.  What? Parents don’t have total control over their children?  Sometimes parents, no matter how honorable their intentions, have close to no control. The wisdom of my degrees and college professors began to be tested, disputed and sometimes even decimated by my own children.

My perspective did a complete about-face.  I slowly began to be embarrassed about all that unequivocal advice I had doled out to experienced parents.  This blog post is my written apology to all the parents I advised before I became a parent myself.  Forgive me.  My intentions were good, but I was viewing a three D movie without the benefit  of special glasses.

Make Parents Your Allies

listen to parentsThis is what I have learned-the hard way- from becoming a parent.  If you want to double or even triple your effectiveness with your students, enlist the help of their parents.  Listen to them.  Give them opportunities to share what they have already learned about their children.  It took me time and experience to learn ways to do this, but it tripled my effectiveness as a teacher.   Here are strategies that worked for me.

1. When I taught very young children, preschool, kindergarten or first grade, I tried to schedule a conference at the very beginning of the school year.  Some years those were home visits.  I called this the “You Tell Me” conference.  I asked questions about their children and I listened.  I wrote down their advice and consulted it frequently.  I found out what was on their minds before I began working with their child. They told me their concerns and strategies that worked with their children.  This information was invaluable.

One time a mom told me that her 3-year-old twins had escaped from more than one child care situtation…actually run out the door to the outside… even into the street.  I thought smugly that would never happen in my environment.  Know what?  It DID happen when their parents were in the room and in charge of their twins on my Orientation Day.  I had to have a staff member posted at the door every day for the remainder of the school year to make sure it didn’t happen again.  Oh how those twins maneuvered and tried to escape!  Houdini himself would have been impressed at their antics. Imagine what might have transpired had I not listened to their parents’ advice first?

2. At parent teacher conferences, get the parent to talk first.  Too often these time slots are short and the teacher rushes through the test scores, grades, behavior issues and upcoming events and assignments filling all of the time that was supposed to include two-way conversations.  Ask questions first.  “What is Courtney saying about my class?” is a good starting point.  “Do you have any concerns and questions for me?”  Start with the parent.  If the parent comes into the conference with a burning concern and the teacher talks through the entire allotted time, the “conference” is a failure.  Sometimes when I ask parents what is on their mind, they stare at me.  If I say, “Describe your child’s strengths and weaknesses,” they’ll begin to speak.

3. In upper elementary grades all the way through high school we teachers host evenings we call curriculum nights or grade level meetings.  The parents come to school and travel to all their child’s classrooms following their schedule for the day.  Teachers repeat the requirements of their class, distribute a syllabus,  and often list consequences for late assignments, failure to bring materials and other infractions.  Teachers hate when parents try to ask how Johnny is doing on a night like this when other parents are standing around listening to what should be confidential conversations.

Here’s what I learned to do.  I had parents pick up index cards as they entered the room.  On those cards I asked them to write answers to 3 questions I had already written on the screen in front of the class.  Those 3 questions were

  • What is your child (or teen) saying about my class?
  • Do you have any concern about your child that you would like to share with me?
  • What can I do that will most help your teen this year?

When I finished my quick presentation about my class, I’d ask anyone if they wanted to share one of the comments on their cards.  Almost always I would get a humorous comment or a comment about how my class was their child’s favorite class.  But the parents with concerns now had an avenue to share those concerns with me without doing so in front of others.  Parents left those cards with me.  I read them immediately (always that night) and called parents who had concerns the very next day.  Almost always they were astonished to hear from me.  But what a message it conveyed. “I care about the parents’ opinions and concerns.  I respect the parents’ input.  We are a team working in the best interest of their child. I recognize the value and insight a parent can contribute to the learning process.”

Teachers don’t do their best teaching in a vacuum.

Great teachers use all the resources available to them.

Parents should be at the top of that list.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

Now 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