Tag Archives: students

Never Say These Words

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What Does A Great Teacher Do?

Never Say these words

A teacher builds bridges between dreams and accomplishments.

                                                                                                                   –Dauna Easley

But Never Say the Following Words

shhhhhThere’s a three word phrase that seems harmless but is, in fact, poison to our profession and is also detrimental to our students’ ears. Too often we use the phrase, “I’m just a teacher.”  No celebrity thinks of themselves as ‘just a star.’  No professional athlete puts the word ‘just’ in front of their athleticism.  And yet day in and day out we directly touch and mold more young lives than celebrities or athletes.  When our students struggle we are there to help.  When they face what they feel are insurmountable problems, we listen.  We care and we counsel. What is more important: shaping lives or creating a game score?  What is more important, encouraging a young human through a  personal challenge or the gross profits of a movie?

Setting the Record Straight

I must admit there is another profession equally as guilty of underestimating their value and importance.  That is the nursing profession.  Nurses are the front lines as are we teachers.  Teachers and nurses are the privates who do the work.  Having a daughter who battled a terminal illness I can tell you that every time her treatment improved and became more humane, it came in the form of a suggestion from a nurse.  Why?  Like teachers they were there on the front lines.  They cared, they listened and they sought solutions.

Words Matter

never say these wordsWe need to bite our tongues every time we hear ourselves say, “I’m just a teacher.”  We need to object when others use those words either orally or through their actions.  We are not just anything.  The only thing ‘just’ about us is the fairness we demonstrate when we value and advocate for all our students.  We just refuse to give up when we notice a child struggling with learning problems, social rejection, or family  issues

Our current students are the future of our country.  Statistics confirm that more of them will model their lives around the works and words of a positive teacher than any political figure, celebrity or sports figure.  We should be just plain tired of being thought of as just a teacher.  We’d tackle anyone who called one of our students ‘just’ a kid.  The parents of my students trust me with their most valuable possession.  Their child matters more to them than their house, their automobile, their investment portfolio or their job. I’m pleased to say that I doubt any of the parents of my former students will ever speak of me as just as teacher.

Nor Will I

My name is Dauna Easley.  I am proud to be a teacher.

TEACH…To Change Lives

Availble at Amazon.com

Take a Closer Look at Schools

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Taking a Closer Look at Schools

Do You See What I See?

My grandson was pitching for batting practice this week.  He was hit in the eye with a line drive ball which broke five bones around his eye.  His eye was blood-shot,  swollen almost shut and he has temporarily (we hope) lost all depth perception.  In the emergency room, he couldn’t even get a straw into his mouth to take a drink without putting his hand on the straw first to guide it to his mouth.  He has to wear protective glasses at all times to keep everyone and everything from inadvertently jarring his eye until these fractures heal.

During this same week I was visiting schools to meet newly placed student teachers.  These are college seniors who are doing their final practice teaching before hopefully finding teaching positions in their own classrooms next year.  The professional teachers who are sharing their classrooms with these novices are called mentor teachers.  It took me eight days to visit 20 students in thirteen schools located in four different school districts.

How Are These Two Events Connected?

taking a closer look at schools

I see a significant parallel.  And I don’t think it was just because I was emotionally experiencing both of these events simultaneously.

It seems that everything you hear through the media about schools and our educational system these days is bad news.

And yet when I walk in schools’ hallways I see wonderful things happening.  It appears to this career teacher that the reporters and politicians who are being constantly quoted about the bad state of our American educational system, have no depth perception.  They are seeing out of only one eye.  Or are they even in our schools’ hallways.

I used both eyes and both ears as I walked the schools’ hallways and talked with the staff.

This is what I saw and heard about teaching.

I saw teachers sitting with students before school hours having breakfast together.  This free breakfast was served to everyone, every day to ensure that all students were getting a nutritional start to their day of learning without singling out anyone.

When I asked student teachers to describe their mentor teachers, they used these words:

committed, caring, kind, patient, hard-working, she comes in early and stays late, he answers all my questions and explains everything he is doing for me, helpful, fair, consistent, he has a wonderful rapport with his students, well-organized, enthusiastic, even the students who claim they don’t like English still like this teacher who is teaching English.  S/he is exactly the kind of teacher I want to become.

One student teacher was describing the principal in the building where she is assigned.  “She had all the student teachers over to her house for a meal.  She wanted to get to know us individually.  The teachers in the building tell me she offers to babysit their own children.  She is always asking the question, ‘What can I do to help you?'”

I saw classrooms decorated and organized with so much care, that the rooms made you want to spend days there learning.   I know how much (or more accurately) how little money a teacher is given to set up a classroom.  These teachers reach deep into their own pockets to make a comfortable environment conducive to learning. Their classrooms were charming, and exciting places to learn.

I saw so much evidence of beginning-of-the-school-year activities planned specifically to build a positive classroom community.  Anti-bullying themes were apparent everywhere.  One teacher photographed her students’ feet (shoes, socks and all) on the first day of school and placed these foot photos on their lockers.  Each student then wrote a paragraph about what they would do this year to put their best foot forward.

Secondary students were gathered in a circle discussing ways we can make isolated peers feel included.

I had one-on-one interviews with all the student teachers and asked them why they wanted to teach and what they wanted to teach.  More than one had tears in their eyes as they explained their passion for the profession.  Their enthusiasm was uplifting.  It made me feel optimistic all over again about this profession I love so much. One of my student teachers appears to be in his forties.  He left the insurance industry to become a teacher because of the way he recognized that teachers can change the lives of young people.

About three weeks ago I had dinner with a couple of former students who are now in the teaching profession.  One of them is in a district where her salary has been frozen for five years because the school tax levy was not passed by voters.  In addition to her rent and car payment she pays  $700.00 a month toward her college loan for her education.  She had applied at surrounding school districts trying to increase her pay and relieve some of her financial stress.  One of those districts called her for a job interview ten days before the beginning of this school year.  She thought it would be unfair to leave her current school district and students so close to the beginning of the school year, so she didn’t go after the job.  And yet in the media we only read about the seeming selfishness of teachers who strike for wages.  Does the teacher I just described sound selfish to you?  Will we read about her?  Only here.

Yesterday I was surfing the internet reading stories about teaching.  One article had a link to the Huffington Post.  I had never been there before.  What did I see?   Dozens of negative articles about teachers.  There was only ONE positive one.  And that article was written by a celebrity, Tony Danza.  Thank you Tony!  But once again, it was driven home to me that only negative or celebrity-written articles about teaching seem worthy of publication.

I’d start a personal campaign to get every parent and teacher I know to write a positive story about teaching and flood the media with them; but I know they wouldn’t get printed.  In the media there is a popular expression they use to determine what gets heard.  “If it bleeds, it leads.”  In other words bad stories, ugly stories attract viewers and readers.

All I can do is stage my own personal campaign on my blog site here or write a book about the positive side of teaching… which I have.  If you are new to my site, scroll back through the past couple of months and check out many true and inspiring stories about teaching.  Also read, TEACH…To Change Lives.

TEACH...To Change Lives

Available at Amazon.com

One Final Word About Our Schools

If the parents and grandparents of our country could have walked the halls of our schools with me this past ten days, they would have felt so good  and been so impressed with the commitment the teachers show to your children.  I heard it and saw it and felt it everywhere I went.   Take a deep breath and feel good about our schools.  This doesn’t seem to be popular right now, but it is the truth.

My grandson goes back to the eye specialist tomorrow.  It will be his third visit this week.  We know he has five fractures (one of them pretty serious) and a depth perception problem and we are watching it closely.  As for the media…I have only one piece of advice.

Taking a Closer Look at Schools

You Need Glasses!! 

A Lesson for Teachers

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                        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.

Perfection!

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

The Empty Truck

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the empty truckAre You Kidding Me?

All the prospective teachers in my classroom were angry.  You could feel the tension hanging in the air within the classroom walls.  I  was teaching in a Teacher Academy program for high school juniors and seniors.  I had just shown my group of high school aged future teachers an article that compared teacher salaries to the yearly income of a wide variety of other professions.  But this activity backfired.  The reality didn’t just inform them, it infuriated them.

Heated comments fueled by adolescent hormones were flying around the room.  “Why should we work this hard to learn about a profession that pays so poorly”?  “What makes accountants and salesmen more valuable than teachers?”  “How come basketball players and sports figures are worth so much more than teachers who educate our country’s children?”  They looked at me with indignation.  They seemed to blame me as though I had written the economic reality of my own profession.

In that moment I sensed I was poorly prepared to answer them.  I chose the escape route of a chicken.  If you don’t know the answer, pose a question.      chicken

“Maybe it’s a good time to revisit the question I asked you on the first day of school,” I challenged them.  “Why do you want to teach?”

I paused and waited for their answers.  But they weren’t falling for it.  They didn’t feel like sharing those touchy-feely stories again.  If society didn’t value teachers were they preparing for the wrong career?  Their body language said it all.  They leaned back in their chairs and crossed their arms over their chests.  They were daring me to defend a profession that was seemingly undervalued by our American culture.

I paused even longer, and not just because I know that an effective teacher gives students time to formulate answers.  I waited because I knew I had to say exactly the right thing to this group at this moment.  I couldn’t come up with the right words.  I started to sweat.

Finally seventeen-year-old Chelsea began to speak.  “My real dad is jealous of my step dad,” she began.

Every head in the room swung to look at her like she was nuts.  Why in the world was she talking about her two dads at a time like this?  But she read their body language and continued, “Wait, just a minute, hear me out.  My real dad is jealous of my  step dad.  I know this is true because he told me so.  My real dad said he is jealous for two reasons.  First, my step dad gets to live with me.  My real dad claims he’s jealous because my step dad gets to spend more time with me.”

two dads

“The second reason he says he’s jealous is because my step dad is an engineer who designs toys.  He first designs a toy.  If that toy design is selected by the big toy company he works for, he gets to watch the whole toy development process.  He watches them produce the toy, choose packaging for it, and market the toy through ads and television commercials.  He even gets to see his finished toy on the toy store shelf and watch kids take it home to play.  My real dad thinks that would be such a cool way to make a living.

You see, my real dad drives a delivery truck.  One day when we were having one of those kind of serious father/daughter talks, he told me that in his job at the end of a really good day all he has to show for it is an empty truck. He told me that he doesn’t care what profession I choose, but he wants me to choose carefully so that at the end of the day I will have something more than an empty truck.”

Teach to Change Lives

She paused to let that sink in and then she continued, “That’s why I want to teach.  Because as a teacher, at the end of a day of helping students learn, I’ll feel a sense of accomplishment that will be so much more than an empty truck.”

teacher

I had a lump in my throat when she stopped speaking. I thought about the courage of her father.  How tough it must have been to so eloquently admit his jealousy for her stepfather.  He was so focused on his daughter choosing a career with meaning that he put his own self-esteem on hold to share an analogy she will never forget.  She internalized his message so completely that she could pull it out and share it with others at just the right moment.  It changed the whole climate of my classroom in an instant.  My students sensed the complete truth in that story.  I didn’t have to add a word.

Isn’t that, after all, why all of us teach?  At the end of a day, a school year or even a career we will have so much more than an empty classroom.  In this profession we build relationships that can honestly span a lifetime and touch generations to come. When we prepare a student to enter a profession with meaning because we have first helped him believe in himself, we help define not just his life, but the way he raises his family as well.  As a career teacher, I admit not every day is easy.  On those tough days I like to think about Chelsea’s story of the empty truck.  I make myself stop, close my eyes, and actually visualize that truck.  Then I take a deep breath and just keep on truckin’.

TEACH...To Change Lives

Today Chelsea is a teacher and has her own students in Hamilton, Ohio.   I have written my second book for teachers titled TEACH…To Change Lives and Chelsea’s story is only one of the stories in it.  It is now available at Amazon.com.

Moments Matter

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Making the Most of Moments

I’ve heard it said that we don’t remember days, we remember moments.  As I think back over my own life I believe that’s true.  The good news is moments take less time than elaborate events and time is a commodity most of us have in short supply.  Most moments that mean much to us simply evolve spontaneously.  But as we build a life of value, embracing the moments when they happen means a great deal.

I remember one significant moment in my life that didn’t even involve a single word. My youngest daughter, Kelsey endured two long battles with cancer.  During her second battle in her teen years while I drove her to the hospital for treatments, I knew she was uptight about all that would transpire, though she never would verbalize her fears.

I fell into the habit of putting my hand on her knee as we drove to the hospital.  One time as we drove there I was lost in my own silent thoughts of dread and I didn’t put my hand on her knee.  After a while she quietly picked up my hand and placed it on her knee.  No words at all.  But we were then connected.  She was telling me she was scared but didn’t want to talk about it. She was telling me that she needed me present with her. It was a moment I will never forget.

Another lighter moment happened in my classroom as I was preparing my teen students to go on a trip out-of-town for an educational conference.  I spoke to them seriously about our upcoming stay in a hotel.  No one was ever to be in the hotel hallway alone.

“Even if you are just going for a bucket of ice, you must have a partner with you,”  I warned.  “Never talk to strangers or enter the room of someone you’ve just met no matter how nice they seem.” I continued sternly.  The atmosphere was very sober as I wanted it to be.

At precisely that moment there was a knock on my classroom door.  A man wearing the uniform of the technology department whom I had never seen before, was looking for the room which housed the media brain of our building.  That particular door is somewhat hidden.  You must pass through another room that has no posted room number in order to find it.  I tried to describe the process to him, but he was still confused.  I stepped outside my classroom, walked a few feet down the hall, opened the unmarked door and escorted him inside to point out the door he was trying to find.  I was back in my classroom in seconds.

One of my female students with a gleam in her eye said, “Excuse me, Mrs. Easley.  Didn’t we just see you leave your friends and go into a room with a strange man who you didn’t even know?”  I tried to stay serious but the whole classroom dissolved into laughter.  What followed was an out-and-out giggle fit that went on and on.  Every time I tried to get the class back on track someone would start laughing again, usually me.

It was a spontaneous moment that none of us will ever forget.  I’m sure long after I’m dead and buried if those students get together to talk about old times, one of them will say, “Do you remember the time Mrs. Easley left the class and went off with a strange man?”  And they’ll laugh again.

What makes me proud?  I was “present” in those moments.  I connected with Kelsey’s message when she needed me.  And I collapsed in laughter when that was the only response needed.  I embraced the moments.  That’s why those moments will live forever.

This is an excerpt taken from my upcoming book:    Teach     To Change Lives