Tag Archives: school

Kindness in the Classroom

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Let’s Talk About Kindness

kindnessKindness helps everything.  It can smooth over advice for improvements.  Sincere empathy during a difficult time can make that adversity seem a little more bearable.   An unexpected kindness can build a positive rapport between people.  That rapport can then be used to give a young person the courage to discuss their challenges and dreams with you.  There is always a choice to bring kindness into a situation…especially the classroom.  Kindness can make even devastating news more palatable.  Kindness can be as simple as saying nothing when a young person has really made a poor choice.  We all need kindness the most when we deserve it least.

Be Kind to Yourself

kindness in the classroomAs a rule teachers are pretty tough on themselves.  We accept assignments late and jeopardize our own free time to show kindness to students.  We give up our lunch breaks, planning bells and spend countless hours before and after school tutoring, running clubs, or just talking with students.  We answer emails, call parents, serve on committees, mentor a new teacher and then end up taking all our grading home.  Most teachers are “yes” people.  It seems the last person we are kind to is ourselves.

A few summers ago I enrolled in a couple of one week workshops for teachers. One of the teachers had us do an activity I will never forget.  She asked us to write a letter to ourselves about any area or aspect of our life that concerned us.  The letters were going to be mailed back to our homes in a self-addressed stamped envelope at a specified later date.  But here is the twist that made this activity to powerful.  She asked us to write that letter using the same type of kind and encouraging words that we would use with a student.  Whoa! I learned very quickly that I talk to and criticize myself in a very different way than I would talk to students.  Writing to myself using the tact and care I use with my students was a very emotional experience.  I could tell it had the same impact on every teacher in that room. It revealed to me that on a daily basis I am probably my own worst enemy.

Helping Students Learn Kind Self-Talk

teach kindness to students

The following year I used this activity with my seniors shortly before they graduated.  It was a classroom full of future teachers.  They were going to be writing encouraging notes and letters to students.  I had them practice on themselves.  I gave them the same instructions my workshop teacher had given me.  They asked if I was going to read them or not.  I gave them the same answer as my workshop teacher.  “If you seal them, I won’t read them.”  As they wrote silently, you could feel the intensity in the classroom.  Rachael began to cry quietly as she wrote encouraging words to herself.  She wasn’t the only student who reacted with emotion.  She later said, “Well, Mrs. Easley, you made me cry in school.  I have managed to get through kindergarten and twelve years of school without ever crying in class.  But just before I graduate, you make me cry in class!”  Ouch.

While my goal certainly wasn’t to make her cry,  (truthfully she made herself cry with what she wrote), I could see the experience had made a lasting impact on her and many others in class.  When that much emotion is attached to an activity, you know that they have experienced something memorable.  To be honest I knew there were a few in the room who found the activity too emotional, and then just wrote something meaningless in the envelope and sealed it.  But I suppose that is true of any endeavor.  We get out of it what we are willing to put into it.  That is also true of life.

Hurdle Roadblocks with Kindness

roadblocks in lifeI’ve also learned that kindness works for me when I come across a roadblock in my life. I try to teach students about this technique.  The kindness doesn’t even have to be directed at the situation that is presenting a roadblock.  In fact it works better if it is completely unrelated.  Small kindnesses make us feel as good as the person to whom we direct the kindness.  When we feel better about ourselves, we are more effective on many fronts. Unselfish kindnesses do have a way of coming back to us with unexpected rewards, but that cannot and should not be our original goal.  Spreading kindness has a domino effect.  Except unlike dominoes kindness doesn’t knock people over, it builds them up.  And isn’t that the best definition of teaching?

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

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

Also available from Amazon.com

What is Important?

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School Rules

What is important?Today more than ever, our schools are filled with rules.  Like it or not rules are necessary to keep students safe.   We can’t tolerate guns or drugs in school buildings or their surroundings.  We want bullies to know they are not in charge of our students.  We have rules against discrimination and rules that demand modifications for students with learning challenges.  In some schools you can’t wear hats, hoods or head-gear or even carry large book bags in the hallways.  In other schools you have to walk up one stairway and down another in order to help students get to class on time.  Most school rules are important.  Some we just tolerate.  And let’s be honest, some we ignore until they are taken off the rule list completely.

Life Rules Matter

what is importantBeyond the school rules, though, I believe it is most important to teach our students LIFE rules.  This is not so easy, but vital for their future success.  I like to start with the rule of 10-10-10.  When I see students getting frustrated or overwhelmed I like to refer to it in the classroom.  The 10-10-10 rule is simple.  Look into the future, stop and think:

  • Is what I’m doing or worrying about right now going to matter ten days from now?  Well is it?
  • Is what I’m doing or worrying about right now going to matter in ten months?
  • Is what I’m doing right now going to matter ten years from now?

Some teens stress out over something that isn’t even going to matter in ten minutes“Look at this text message!  What do you think he means by that?!”  In ten minutes the bell will ring and you can ask him.

These three questions really help our students understand how to evaluate the ways they spend their time.  They are also questions that need to guide our own lives.  Isn’t that why we chose teaching after all?  We chose a profession that would impact our student’ lives for more than ten years.  (If we do it well).

When I take a break from my writing to pick up a grandchild from gymnastics or attend a baseball game to watch my grandson play ball, I’m doing something that will matter even ten years from now.  I want my grandchildren to know they matter to me.  I must do that now.  In ten years, four of my grandchildren will be living away from home.  This is the time I must build a permanent relationship with them.  I am very aware of that.  THIS is when they look forward to seeing me.  I want them to remember that I was an important person in their lives  I want them to know that they are important people in MY life.

However, when I’m writing I don’t answer the phone for a number I don’t recognize.  I’ll finish my task and then listen to my messages.

Both of those responses honor the 10-10-10 rule.  Recently while shopping I saw a little plaque that read:

I always have time to talk about how busy I am

  Ouch.  Aren’t we all a little guilty of that?

Using these three questions can make us and our students just a little bit more aware of how much time we spend on useless drivel.  Teachers spend hours and hours doing things that will not matter one whit in ten days.  So much minutia is thrust upon us.  We have to learn to just say no to time wasters if we want to accomplish our bigger dream of helping our students become all that they can be.

Likewise students are completely inundated with electronics.

What is important?

Technology has turned our teens and far younger children into electronic junkies.  They stop any important project…driving, making eye contact with a parent or friend, or especially listening to a teacher, to respond to an endless barrage of text messages.  Screening these interruptions and prioritizing what is really important is a skill that must be taught.  What is our ultimate goal?  Focus on what will still be important in ten years.  Are our students working toward long-term goals or becoming a slave to trivial interruptions?

Making them aware of the ten-ten-ten rule will help them sort it out for themselves.  Maybe they won’t even “get it” right now.  But ten years from now, when they are trying to reprioritize their lives, they may understand the wisdom we were trying to share.

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

Conversations About our Schools

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conversations about our schoolsTrue Stories from My Past Week

Story # 1

I was visiting an elementary school this past week observing a college senior who is student teaching this semester.  As I left her classroom I was walking through the school hallway alone.  A kindergarten boy came running down the hallway on his way to the bathroom.  He was close to me before he noticed me.

He stopped running when he saw me, looked me up and down and said, “What school did YOU go to last year?”

I laughed all the way home about his comment.

moving teachersMoving Teachers

Story #2

On Saturday I visited a school district 45 minutes away to watch my granddaughter perform in a competition.  There was a lady I had never met before sitting behind me.  She began talking about her past week as a kindergarten teacher. Once I realized she was a kindergarten teacher, I turned around to tell her my story about the little boy in the hallway.  She listened and laughed.  When she realized I was also in the teaching profession she then said, “Let me tell you about my week at school.

“On Thursday of this week the administrators called a previously unannounced teachers’ meeting.  We found out at that meeting almost all of the third through sixth grade teachers will be leaving our urban school.  They are getting rid of all but two teachers in those grades because the students’ test scores came back too low.  The only reason we kindergarten through second grade teachers still have jobs is because our students don’t yet take the standardized tests.”

I was stunned.  “Are they firing all those teachers?” I asked.

She continued her tale, “No, they are moving them to another school in our district.  The other school is in a completely different neighborhood with an entirely different clientele.  Guess what?  Not so surprisingly their tests scores are higher.  Therefore the administrators (or somebody) believes those teachers are more effective.  They are bringing those ‘effective’ teachers to our school to boost our students’ test scores.  They are moving what they consider our ineffective teachers to the other school to learn from the ‘effective’ teachers still there.”

We smiled at each other and shook our heads.

I thought to myself, “Who is making these decisions?  Did they visit in both those schools?  What are educators even thinking? Or are educators even involved in any of these decisions?”  Like the kindergarten boy I met in the hallway I wondered, “What school did THEY go to last year?”

Value Added

Story #3

school

On Sunday I was in another school watching yet another grandchild participate in a function.  Next to me sat a wonderful, committed first year teacher.  I have known this young lady for years and am very aware of her standard of excellence.  I told her the story the kindergarten teacher shared with me.  She was disappointed, but not surprised.

She described a similar circumstance she had encountered.  School districts have become so reactionary to test scores that it seems like learning takes a back seat to the almighty score.  Everyone is talking about value added.

Note from me:  When schools talk about ‘value added’ these days they only mean how did you raise test Dauna Easleyscores?  They don’t mean how well do you communicate with parents, differentiate instruction, tutor or counsel students.  Value added means only, “What did you do to raise test scores on the standardized tests?”  I’m sad about that.  A valuable teacher is so much more than one number on a page.  Ask any student what constitutes a valuable teacher.  They will describe one accurately. But students’ opinions don’t factor into the equation either.  Only standardized test scores matter anymore.

This young teacher pointed out that her subject (foreign language) isn’t covered on the state standardized test.  But the teachers still have to prove ‘value added’.  Essentially all they have to do is make up a pre-test, then teach the skill and administer their own post test.  If the scores go up, they can prove value has been added.  She is professional enough and committed enough to recognize the irony in this scenario and she is only a first year teacher.

Isn’t this just a little like asking the fox to guard the chicken coop?

value added

It makes me sad to see educators running in circles like this.  The cry for higher test scores from politicians and the media….higher test scores,  no matter what the method… is causing otherwise intelligent people to make some pretty desperate decisions.  When we don’t know what to do, we just get forced into doing something whether it is worthwhile or not.

I want to ask the politicians, government officials and reporters who are complaining about our schools…in the words of a kindergarten boy…

What schools did you go to last year?

What teachers did you interview? Did you ask them how to raise test scores?

What did students suggest about how to identify effective teachers and raise test scores?

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

Autographed books and large quatities available from the author: dauna @cinci.rr.com

Also available at Amazon.com

Bright Ideas for Dark Days

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bright ideas for dark days          The Teacher Was Absent

I post a new thought for teachers every Monday at this blog site.  However, on Monday December 24, my post was missing.  My apologies.  No, I wasn’t strolling on the beach as the photo seems to indicate.  I only wish that were the case.  My hubby was in the midst of a serious unexpected medical emergency.  I was at the hospital with him where I needed to be.  Yes, we spent the 10 days surrounding Christmas at the hospital, but our family came to see us there on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  He continues to recover.  Thank you for your understanding.

Twenty Bright Ideas for Dark Days

Bight Ideas fo dark days

When the memory of those beautiful fall days begins to dim and spring still seems a lifetime away, we may feel our classroom enthusiasm begin to take a nose dive.  Some of you may drive to school and/or even home in the dark.  Do you need some ways to keep yourself upbeat for your students?  Remember:  We can’t pass along what we don’t possess.  Try some of these ideas that worked for me.

  1. Fake it till you make it.  This isn’t phony.  William James, the psychologist called this the “as if” principle.  If you want to feel enthusiastic act ‘as if’ you already are.  I learned this lesson clearly during a particularly tough time in my personal life.  It was my job to be at the school entrance to greet young children when they arrived in the morning.  No matter how down in the dumps I felt when I arrived, after 20 minutes of greeting one child after another with a big smile and a friendly observation or two, I felt better for the whole day.
  2. Allow for spontaneity.  Change your plans.  Put a new twist on an old lesson.  What is something you have never tried in your classroom before?  Now is the time!  When I was writing my two books for teachers I discovered something that surprised me.  The stories I wrote about were almost always the first time I tried an activity in the classroom.   If the activity was a success, then I would do it again in subsequent years.  But it was almost always the first time I did the activity that was the “memory maker.”  Fresh ideas spark our creativity and engage students in new ways. 
  3. Build an encouragement folder.  Whenever someone writes you a positive note for any reason, pop that note into a folder.  Pull out all those notes when you need to recharge your batteries.  It will pump up your confidence and make you feel great.
  4. Lighten up!  When you find yourself getting really angry about something, step back and try to laugh about it.  Mentally make it into a comedy routine if you have to.  In our profession we spend way too much time lamenting about policies and new systems that have really nothing to do with teaching.  Focus on your students and the teaching.  That is what attacted us to this profession. Let the other stuff bounce off you like a kangaroo on a pogo stick.
  5. Read motivational books or inspirational thoughts late at night or before work in the morning. The morning news depresses me.  I have found that I can’t listen to how many murders, rapes and fires happened overnight and then teach teenagers during the day.  But with the right music and uplifting thoughts in my head, I’m the best that I can be.  Don’t my students deserve this?
  6. Practice kindness.  Kindness helps absolutely everything.  It is the language the blind can see and the deaf can hear.  I’m far from perfect but I can tell you this:  The times I haven’t been kind haunt me.  Kindness lifts everyone, not just the receiver of the kindness, but also the giver too.
  7. Take a class that will help you reflect on your job in a positive way.  I teach future teachers, but still I take classes with the same titles as the classes I teach.  I always learn new ideas and teaching strategies in every class in which I enroll.  I can also be a valuable contributor to a class I’m taking.   Every time I have taken a class I’ve come back to the classroom with fresh ideas to try with my students.  I don’t care how experienced you are, there are always new things to learn if your attitude is in the right place.
  8. Write down new ideas the moment they pop into your mind. Try to take some action on them within 24 hours.  Someone invented sticky notes just for me.  I’m full of ideas that are gone in an instant.  The creativity of the sticky notes compels me to use them to organize my thoughts.  There are arrows, tabs, neon bursts, and 4×6 inch sticky notes for more lengthy ideas.  Use them to jot down ideas and then take action.  Action will put you in a better frame of mind 100% of the time. 
  9. Improve your work space.  Buy a new organizer or select a new picture.  I work best when I’m surrounded by quotes that inspire me.  If you don’t have an extra nickel to spare, clean your desk area.  I’m very creative but my desk is always a mess.  Every time I take the time to clear my desk it lifts my spirits.  What is an added bonus?  I find great things.  I come across a new idea for teaching or writing that I only had time to jot down previously.  When I discover it again, I run with it.
  10. Purge.  Don’t stop with just your desk.  Clean out your files as though you were taking a new job.  That happened to me once.  On the last day of school I didn’t know that I would be taking a new job during the summer months.  I left years of files and had to start fresh.  At first it was scary, but it also felt great.  I now had room to file all the new ideas and items I needed to do my job now.  Purge as though you are moving.
  11. Record uplifting music.  Listen to it on the way to work and while you are grading papers.  I always play music as my students enter the room.  It feels as though something exciting is going to happen.
  12. Compliment a co-worker.  Better yet, put the compliment in writing.  It will uplift the person receiving the compliment, but it will also make you feel great.  Try to encourage and compliment at least one co-worker per day.  Make it your own secret challenge.
  13. Set goals that move and inspire you.  Don’t choose hollow goals or goals someone else assigns you.  Set goals that matter to you and move forward on them.  When we feel great about ourselves we can better inspire and motivate others.
  14. Create a new bulletin board or display in your classroom.  Visually appealing surroundings encourage us and our students.  Look at your classroom as though you are walking in the door for the first time.  What strikes you? 
  15. Keep a gratitude journal.  I record five things for which I am grateful every night before I go to bed.  During the summer months I do this in the morning instead of at night.  This activity will change the focus of your day.  You will begin to look for positive events rather than focus on annoyances.
  16. Solve a problem.  Instead of complaining about how things ought to be, come up with a solution.  Everyone will be grateful.  You’ll be a hero and that feels terrific.
  17. Attend an educational conference.  You’ll rub elbows with other educators who are serious about improving their skills.  You’ll return to school rejuvenated and ready to try some new ideas you discover.  Better yet, become a presenter at a conference.  Share ideas that have worked in your classroom.
  18. Change your routine.  Have a mental list of some things you’ve been wanting to do someday?  We all have a list like this.  Take a weekend trip to a place you’ve always wanted to visit.  Call up an old friend or drop them an email.
  19. Share ideas.  You have so much talent among your co-workers.  Find a way to have each of them share their best ideas with the rest of you.  I once ran a monthly professional development experience in the school where I worked.  Each month I had a few teachers share their best ideas.  Don’t overlook the teacher next door.
  20. Most important tip of all!  Don’t eat lunch with the crab apples.  During this valuable time of day, surround yourself with people who speak highly of students and those who are excited about making their classrooms and your school a positive place to be.

Twenty tips may overwhelm you.  But I believe if you try even a few of these ideas you won’t be just counting the days until spring; you’ll be doing things that make every day count.  Welcome 2013 into your life and your classroom.

TEACH…To Change Lives

Available at Amazon.com

Or autographed or in large quantities directly from the author  dauna@cinci.rr.com

TEACH...To Change Lives

How to Help Students Succeed in Life

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Beyond the Textbooks

Good teachers teach the subject matter and they do it well.  They know their academic area thoroughly.  Their lesson plans are well thought out and hopefully creative.  They are experts in their field.  There are studies that prove that the best way to improve test scores is to thoroughly educate our teachers – to provide them with a deeper understanding of their subject matter.  They then can pass this academic excellence along to their students.

I thoroughly agree with this strategy.  BUT…if you want to become something beyond a good teacher I think there is so much more than academic excellence required.  Great teachers don’t just teach academics, they teach people.  The student precedes the subject matter. Great teachers don’t just teach an academic field. They must teach many things beyond the text.  They teach concepts that help students live a life full of successes that they learn to create through experiences and activities that begin in the classroom.

How?

The truth is I’ve written a whole book about this and it’s not easy to describe briefly.  Also,even as I write this I can hear many good teachers saying,

I don’t have time for anything other than the academics! 

I can’t cover all the material even now.

How can I add more?

And technically they are right.  We don’t have extra time for unimportant concepts.  But what I’m describing is important and effective teachers will realize it and integrate it into their lessons.   Great teachers will custom braid success strategies throughout all of their teaching. weaving them over and under the academics they cover, strengthening their students’ learning path into a cord with triple the strength of mere facts.

Think Differently

We have to be honest and admit that we don’t know the world our students will be facing.  Changes in our country within the past decade have resonated that message.  We must prepare our students for an economy we can’t even predict.  They will change not just jobs but careers.  We must teach them entrepreneurial skills, creativity, perseverance, problem solving, and how to set goals and adapt when the  ground under their feet begins shifting in a new direction.

Six Tips for Getting Started

  • Read orally to students no matter what their age.  We do this when they are young, but we give it up when they need it most.  By carefully selecting short oral readings you can engage their minds using words from the greatest inventors, entrepreneurs, leaders, thinkers, and doers.  You can expose them to the best advice given by the greatest minds in less than 5 minutes per day.  Carefully choose, then read a 2-3 minute selection.  Then have them orally reflect. Cap the reading and discussion with a challenge to apply it to their lives immediately.  Check back on the results.
  • Model initiative by talking about ways you are trying to improve your life.  Talk about personal goals and share your progress toward a goal.  List the steps toward your goal and check off progress as they watch.  Challenge them to do the same.  Have them identify a goal, write it down, list their steps and check off progress as a classroom challenge.  Support one another.  You must walk your talk on this one or it will have no impact.  As teachers we are FIRST role models.
  • But also share your failures with students.  I don’t mean to air dirty laundry that is inappropriate for students, but I DO mean to reveal a time in your life you have faced a failure.  This is uncomfortable for adults.  We want our students and children to think of us as a success.  They need to know we have faced failures and survived.  If they never hear that, when they face failures in their future (and they will) they will feel like losers.  They need to know we faced failures, what we learned from those failures and how we persevered.  How much did it hurt?  How did you recover?  Is there success after defeat?  What got you through it? Tell them.  This is a life skill they need.
  • When you reveal your vulnerabilities, as a side benefit, they will be more apt to approach you when they have an issue they need to discuss with someone.  When this happens, don’t over react.  No matter how large or shocking their problem, initially you must under react.  If you over react, they won’t approach you again.  They may never again approach anyone with a situation they need to discuss.  This is a time for problem solving with them.
  • Verbalize a student’s strengths at every opportunity.  Always look for talents and verbalize them whenever you notice them. Young people often undervalue their skills.  If they are good at something, they may think everyone does that well.  It’s no big deal in their mind.  They often FIRST see their future careers and successes through the eyes of someone else whose opinions they value.  My grandson had to write a sample college essay in high school listing and describing his strengths.  Once he described his athletic skills he stopped.  More slowly he knew he had a sense of humor and admitted some leadership skills.  But what he didn’t know was his greatest strength.  He has a wonderful talent for making other people feel valued.  When I told him this he said, “What do you mean?”  I give him a dozen examples.  It was a revelation for him.  Why had I not pointed that out to  him yet?  Shame on me.  He didn’t even know he had this unique and valuable skill. He will never forget this conversation.  I’m sure of it.
  • Choose activities and readings that make students aware of their self talk.  The truth is we say more hurtful words to ourselves than any bully has ever directed at us.  But usually students are unaware that they do this to themselves until you make them aware of it.  I have my students carry a small notebook and record the internal messages they give themselves for a week.  I share mine too!  I think it is important to participate in the activities you assign your students. We have to take it further.  We have to turn it around and replace it with positive self talk.  I attended a small high school with a graduating class of only 81 students.  Mike was a student in that class.  He was not the valedictorian nor the salutatorian in a class of only 81.  And yet he has made a huge success of his life (more about that in my book).  Do you know what his self talk is?  He was embarrassed to admit this and he says he NEVER says it out loud, but he continually says to himself internally, “Somebody has to be first.  Why not me?”

I’m passionate about this topic and hate to stop here. 

But I know if this post gets any longer, no one will want to read it at all.  My book describes 100+ such strategies. I think the greatest gifts we give our students are the ones that go beyond the text books. I’m a career teacher and I’m sure of it.  I belive great teachers TEACH…To Change Lives.

TEACG

TEACH…To Change Lives

Available at Amazon.com

Teacher for a Lifetime

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Not A Runner

I’m not a runner, so using running analogies in my writing is a dangerous proposition for me.  But a few parallels between teaching and running strike me.  The National Education Association has been collecting data on teachers for years.  What they reveal is that 50% of teachers quit within their first five years of the profession.  And they never teach again.  That means half of the people who enter the profession spend less time IN the profession than they did preparing for the profession.

Those are staggering and disappointing numbers, but I’d have to also confess, that they don’t surprise me.  I threw so much of myself into my job that I became sick in only my second year of teaching.  I had never been sick before.  My illness baffled and scared me. The doctors couldn’t explain it to satisfy me.  I was desperate to get better and considered quitting the profession at that time.  But I hung in there and realized that teaching, if you wanted to make it a career, was more like a marathon than a sprint.  You simply can’t finish a marathon if you try to maintain a sprinter’s pace.  No, I’m not in favor of half-way teaching.  I’m a teacher who threw herself whole heartedly into the profession.  BUT if you don’t find your own pace, your comfort zone that will somehow sustain you to hang in to make it to the end of the marathon, you will never survive in this career.

After more than two decades of teaching, I moved from the elementary grades into high school.  High school?!  If you had told me at any time during my first half of my career that I would eventually teach high school, I would have laughed in your face and then run out of the school building…in a sprint.   In my 24th year of teaching I taught high school for the first time.

I didn’t just move from elementary to high school, I also moved into an entirely new student demographic at the same time. Most of my students were tough and oppositional, living in at-risk situations.  Many of my students didn’t know their fathers and some even had mothers in prison or unemployed parents on drugs. I have no idea what kept me from quitting that year.  Professionally it was the hardest year of my life.  I almost quit in the first week of school. I only made it until 11:00 am on the second day before I was crying.  I spent the rest of the year questioning my judgement for staying.  That first group of teens chewed me up and spit me out on the pavement. Then they walked over me and left me for dead.  And they enjoyed it.

I continued to teach in that challenging environment for 12 years.  Do you know what I learned?  When I made a positive difference in a student’s life in that environment, I was usually the only person turning that kid’s life around.  I learned that those kids challenged me until they trusted me.  Life had dealt them some serious blows and they weren’t going to let anyone hurt them again.  Once they finally trusted and accepted me then they became my greatest allies.  It was in that school that I accomplished some of my most meaningful teaching.  It was, in a strange way, kind of intoxicating.  I was making a difference.  Isn’t that why most of us enter this profession?  To make a difference?

It was also during this era that I began speaking and writing about teaching.  I wanted to encourage and inspire other teachers.  Day in and day out I saw a lot of teachers who looked defeated.  I wanted them to feel supported and realize the positive difference they were making.   Speaking and writing helped build my self esteem back up a little while the students continued to pummel me like a tether ball dangling from a pole in a prison yard.   Yes, making a positive difference in a tough environment feels good, but it also had its down side.  I began to feel pessimistic about the future of our country.  If the students I was teaching were the future of our world, what was our world going to become?

Fortunately for me my teaching career took another unexpected detour.  Someone heard me speak and offered me a job in a more traditional academic high school teaching in a Teacher Academy program.  The students who enrolled in that program already knew they wanted to teach.  For the most part they were wonderful role models, great students, caring and encouraging to others and even their teacher.  The last seven years of my full-time teaching career were blissful.  I maintain long-term professional friendships with many students and I watch them finish college and enter their own classrooms.  Once again I feel quite optimistic about the future of our schools and our country.

Today I continue to write and speak about teaching while I supervise college level student teachers part time.  I love this role.  In this capacity I am able to be in and out of schools interacting with top quality mentor teachers, while calming the fears and encouraging beginning teachers.  After twice considering walking away from the profession, it turns out I am a teacher for life.

Tips for Running a Teaching Marathon

  •  Find your own pace.  When you discover your energy flagging, turn your attention to the other parts of your life.  Are you socializing enough?  Are you having any fun in the rest of your life? Have you given up an activity you enjoy? If teaching consumes your whole life, you won’t be able to stick with it long-term.
  • Find a coworker with a positive attitude and good sense of humor.  You can encourage one another and laugh about the occasional lunacies of the profession.
  • Focus on the students.  Try not to focus on the frustrations of the profession.  There will always be a new program, new curriculum, a new computer system, data collection, testing pressure, politicians who complain  about schools during campaigns,  or a change in policy or administration.  None of that is as important as building a rapport with students and helping them learn and grow into positive adults.  Laugh about the rest and focus on the kids.
  • Don’t eat lunch with the crab apples.  Every school (or business) has crab apples.  Spend your time with the positive staff members.  Avoid staffers who complain about the quality of the students, the community or the administration.  Seek out professionals who genuinely care about the students and have the ability to keep the rest of the job in perspective.
  • Never quit after a frustrating year.  There’s an old saying, “Never cut a dead tree in the winter time.”  Wait until spring.  It may just appear dead and will flourish in the spring.  In teaching, each school year  is a clean slate.  I’ve had some of my best teaching years just following some of my most challenging.  Those sweet years can rejuvenate you.
    In my life I play many roles.  I’m a daughter of aging parents, wife, friend, mom, grammy, speaker and writer.  But in addition to all those roles, I know that in my soul I am a lifetime teacher.  I hope somehow you will be able to obtain the satisfaction from teaching that I have.  The world needs committed teachers more than any other profession.  If you agree, you are probably one of us.  I teach to change lives.

             TEACH…To Change Lives

             Available at Amazon.com

Teaching…What They Don’t Teach You in College

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Surprises for New Teachers

Teaching Duties 101Kelly, a young teacher whom I have trained, emailed me recently and said, “You’re never going to believe this, Mrs. E. Our whole district has switched to a new reading program that is 100% online.  And guess what? We are a full week into the school year and not one computer in the whole school is working.”

I believed it.  Why?  Because in some form or another while teaching I’ve lived it over and over again.

Another young teacher said recently, “I’m supposed to be ready for students the minute they walk into my classroom, but I spend half an hour before school standing hall duty!  How can I be preparing for teaching while I’m in the hall watching for fights that might break out?”

Another teacher was spending too much of her first year salary at Kinkos running off papers for her students because she spent all of her planning time fulfilling her assigned duties or waiting at the end of a long line at the copy machine.

Teacher Duties 101

teaching secretsDo  you know what would be an excellent college course for future teachers?  Duties 101.  I’d love to have the opportunity to teach that class.  Here is the truth taken from someone who has taught preschool through high school seniors.

Though it may seem like overkill to write elaborate three page, creative lesson plans while you are in college, you might as well enjoy the process.  Because once you are really teaching in your own classroom, you will never again have time for three page lesson plans.  Why?  Because you will be “on duty.”  I’m not talking patriotic duty here.  No bands will play.  No flags will furl.  We are talking low-down-and-dirty teacher duties that they never describe to you in college.  The variety is endless.

  • In elementary school there is the adventurous playground duty.  I once had a hairpiece knocked clear off my head standing playground duty!  It was my own fault.  I walked too close to the tether ball game.  Amazingly we had NO playground equipment in the first school where I taught.  Something about liability.  Hundreds of kids would pour out onto the black top for recess with nothing to do but play our one tether ball game and chase each other.  What was our job?  To keep them from chasing each other, of course. “No running on the black top!” was our constant mantra.  Our tether ball game became as vicious and competitive as ice hockey, just ask my chignon (hair piece) that flew 20 yards.  I’m lucky it was only my fake hair. Just a few inches more and I would have had to say good-bye to some of my IQ points.
  • What’s worse?  Indoor recess.  Sounds tame but don’t let it fool you.  Ask any experienced teacher.  You’ll know who they are because they are wearing hearing aids and they sport a nervous twitch.
  • Then there is the ever-to-be-avoided cafeteria duty.   In elementary school this involves using your fingers to open 213 cardboard milk cartons and poking a pointed straw through 303 drink containers in an hour.  Correct dress code for cafeteria duty?  Hand-me-down duds that ketchup and food fight stains won’t bother, skid proof shoes that keep you from falling on your tush while sliding on spills, and ear plugs to protect your hearing from the animated lunch room ‘conversations’.  Your only protection will be the whistle around your neck.  We give teachers whistles when they really need fire hoses.  It builds their resourcefulness.
  • Bus duty is another thriller.  In my first life as an elementary teacher I thought this was the bottom of the barrel.  I was wrong (more on that later).  Elementary bus duty involved hundreds of kids swinging book bags larger than their bodies, darting this way and that between cars and buses as they scream comments to their friends.  Our local voters turned down 4 school tax levies in a row.  I feel so sorry for the kindergarten teachers who give up not only their lunch time but their before and after school planning time to carry umbrellas as they herd scores of five-year-olds through the rain  to their cars four times each day.
  • Teenagers take duties to a whole new depth.  There is restroom duty.  I fondly call this one ‘smoker’s duty.’  What happens?  A previously healthy teacher stands in a restroom full of adolescent hormones breathing more smoke than someone at a happy hour held in a tobacco barn.  Smoke flows from over and under every stall door.  Each and every time you approach a smoker they question your right to accuse them of anything.  Their attorney dad is already on their cell phone before they exit the stall.
  • Once I was assigned morning hall duty in a high school.   On this sacred duty a teacher spends every  minute of their class preparation time, not preparing.  I stood at an unlocked door asking students to show me their ID badges.  One hundred percent of the time they told me their ID badges were in their lockers.  At that time I was to direct them to the cafeteria door where there were other teachers stationed “on duty’ to supervise them.  One hundred percent of the time they claimed they were on their way to the cafeteria.  But my assignment issued from school administrators as a hall duty monitor is to NOT allow them in that doorway.  During those before school hours teens called me everything but a teacher.  By the time school would begin for the day I had the self-esteem of a roach.  I wonder why that door couldn’t have been locked?

shy?

  • Bottom of the barrel?  I swear I’ve done the research and this one is it.  High school parking lot duty!  Picture this.  During the last class of the day you have a six-foot-four 300 pound varsity football player mad at you because he doesn’t like the midterm grade he earned in your class.  Five minutes later the bell rings and you have to run outside in the sleet to stand in the center of the main driveway though which all students exit.  The same dude drives his two thousand-pound car right up to you.  He honks his horn for you to move.  You jump a foot high but stand your ground. You are, after all, ‘on duty’. You tell him lamely that you are not permitted to allow any students’ cars to leave until the buses pull out.  He revs his motor and inches his automobile right up against your thigh.  You can read his lips through his windshield.  You know in detail every expletive he is screaming at you, and you’re tying to remember if he wore his weapon-disguising trench coat to school that day.  Moments like these make me dream about the days when I taught preschool.
  • In preschool the only duties that are distasteful are wiping snot and hearing the proud little voice ring out from the potty area.   “Teeeeacher, I pooped.  Come and wipe my butt.”  The polite ones even say, “please.”  High school parking lot duty makes me remember preschool poop-wiping fondly.

I swear I’m not making any of this up.  Not… one… word.  But in writing it out, I’ve just come to a revelation about why we don’t teach these important details in college.  We don’t want to drive great people away from an already challenging profession.  We have to keep future teachers in the dark until we reel them in and they fall in love with the profession.  And the right ones will.

We have only one defense strategy, but it is powerful.  We have to laugh.  We somehow have to focus on the difference we can make in students’ lives and just laugh about the rest of the madness.   Find a fellow teacher with a positive attitude who is committed to students and laugh together.  If we let the insanity of the duties consume us, we will forget the real reasons we were drawn to this meaningful profession.   We are in the classroom to change lives.  Not one other profession in the world has the day-to-day power we have to improve lives.  Laugh at the nonsense and focus all of your efforts  on making a positive change in the lives of  your students.  Take it from a very experienced teacher looking back on a long career.  You will be forever grateful that you did.

TEACH…To Change Lives

Available at Amazon.com