Tag Archives: Teach to Change Lives

Teachers: What Life is All About

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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

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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

Teaching the Important Things

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Teaching the Important Things

Last week I went to lunch with Josh, one of my former high school students.   There he is grinning on the left.  He is just about ready to graduate from college and has begun the job search.  He joked about his major:  English and American Studies.  He also has a minor in film.  He has begun to circulate his resume, but so far has received no invitations for an interview.

I asked Josh about his dream job.

Right now I’d like to do something with my writing.  I would especially love to write about films or music.  But who will ever believe  that I could do that?  How do you impress anyone and get them to take a chance on you, when you are fresh out of college?

I’m fortunate.  I positively know Josh can do all of these things. I began reading Josh’s writing when he was only seventeen.  It was clear even when he was in high school that he had a major talent for writing.  He was always interested in plays, characters, settings, and how to impact those scenes with just the right music and dialogue.  He is a director (or novelist) in his soul.  I’ve also watched him act in productions and lead a group of a thousand teens as a Master of Ceremonies on the stage at a national conference.  It is so gratifying as a teacher to sit with a young person and absolutely know in your gut that he will be a success.  I am probably even more excited than he is to watch this all unfold.

This weekend I also attended the college graduation party of another former high school student, Nicki.  She is now a respiratory therapist.  She has her job already lined up.  Remember I taught these students in a Teacher Academy program.  I spent two years with them teaching them everything I knew about the teaching profession.   And yet some of my former students have steered into completely different paths; lawyer, forensic accounting, an engineer who wants to design prosthetics,  signer for deaf children and adults and a great variety of other careers.  While the vast majority of the students I taught have gone into the teaching profession, many have chosen completely different paths.

Choosing Your Own Path

Does that make me feel like a failure?  Not at all.  Why?  Because fortunately I didn’t just teach my students about teaching.

  • I taught them about pushing outside their comfort zone and refusing to give up on a dream (any dream) because of fear.
  • We talked about facing failures and how to not allow those failures to defeat you but how to turn them into a success.
  • They practiced how to give an effective speech.
  • In my classroom they learned that most people in American today don’t just change jobs, they change careers several times in their lives.
  • They learned to listen for negative self talk and replace it with positive messages to themselves.
  • How to use the power of persistence to accomplish anything you want to achieve.
  • We practiced writing a resume and being interviewed.
  • As a group we learned how to survive when someone you love turns their back on you.  (Believe me that is an important skill needed in a classroom full of teens.  If you don’t think so, look at teen suicide rates).
  • They learned how to create a persuasion presentation.
  • We talked about the importance of living their lives with balance and how to notice when your own life is out of balance.
  • They learned how to express themselves through the written word.  Boy did they learn that!
  •  There was hardly a day in my classroom when I didn’t orally read a small piece about how someone who is now successful overcame obstacles in their lives.

In short, we talked about every aspect of life…even when they thought they didn’t need it or want to discuss it.

You know what scares me?  Given our country’s current preoccupation with test scores, scripted education and the push to cover pages 74- 79 today, how many teachers will never get around to the important stuff?  If I had chosen to teach only about teaching, I would have probably realized something like a 20% failure rate.  But instead I feel like every time a kid I’ve taught finds their passion and has the courage to pursue it, I can count that as a “win.”

Most of my former students will be amazing teachers.  The rest of them will be equally incredible at whatever they choose to pursue.  I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of all their lives.

Josh, who isn’t becoming a teacher, has already promised to mention me in his acceptance speech for the first big award that comes his way.  I know this is going to happen.  If you know anyone who is hiring a writer or is working on a film, I suggest you hire Josh immediately.  That way you can also look back and say as I will, “I just knew from the very beginning, he was going to be a success.”

How to reach Josh Chamberlain?   j3.chamberlain@gmail.com

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

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

 

 

 

 

The Teacher Who Made ME Want to Teach

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The Teacher Who Made ME Want to Teach I wish I had a photo of her, but unfortunately I don’t.  Her name was Esther Waggoner and her third grade classroom pointed me in the direction of my life’s work: teaching.  I feel certain she taught me multiplication tables, cursive writing, reading and  many other academic subjects.  Plenty of exciting learning takes place in third grade.

I remember another thrill that school year.  Our old school building added a new wing while I was in third grade.  In the middle of the school year we got to pick up our belongings in our arms and carry them to our new classroom.  But none of these reasons are why I mention her here.  It wasn’t the academics or the surroundings that made that year special for me.  It was the enthusiasm of the woman in front of the classroom.

don't ever do this

Mrs. Waggoner just simply taught with Joy.  Messes didn’t seem to bother her.  Noise didn’t freak her out.  She loved children and she loved teaching.  She honestly was having so much fun in her classroom that she made me want to grow up and enter a profession in which I could go to work and have that much fun.

At home my parents belonged to the “Go Play” philosophy of child rearing. “Don’t make a mess or too much noise.  Do your chores and then go play.”  I was fine with that.  I never questioned it.  I loved to play outside from the time my chores were done to the time the lightning bugs came out at night. I honestly had no complaints.  I hadn’t experienced any other way.

Play with us Then Mrs. Waggoner appeared in my life.  She actually played with her students.  I studied her like she was some kind of personal science experiment.  What was this?  An adult who enjoyed playing with children? I had never met another adult like her.  During the winter months when we had a long season of indoor recesses she let us push all our chairs back against the wall and set up bowling pins.  We’d roll the ball knocking those wood pins down over and over again.  She never flinched.

DSC_0390_x2_Iván_Melenchón_Serrano_MorgueFileI remember one month when she even taught us how to square dance at recess time indoors.  She’d  clap her hands to the music and yell out those square dance calls with enthusiasm while we swung our partners and learned to do-si-do. She even danced with us when there was an odd number of students so no one would be left out.

I was hooked.  From third grade on I wanted to grow up and enter a profession that allowed an adult to experience that much joy.  Mrs. Waggoner is the reason I became a teacher.  Of course I taught academics.  Yes!  Students won’t respect a teacher who doesn’t challenge them academically.  But I first considered teaching because of the way that Mrs. Waggoner made me feel.  I wanted to connect with young people in the same way she connected with me.  It was Mrs. Waggoner’s joy that first sent me into teaching.  But it was the connections I made with young people that kept me there.  I’m proud to say that I enjoyed the profession as much as Mrs. Waggoner did.

When I finished college, can you guess where I began my teaching career?  In third grade, of course.

I went to a small town parade this past weekend.  I noticed that when military people and firefighters passed by, the crowd applauded.  I was proud of everyone.  It was exactly the right thing to do.  I was applauding right along with them.

But somehow I wish that teachers were the recipients of some applause and not just the targets of the media and politicians running for office.  It has become fashionable to criticize teachers just the way too many citizens dishonored our veterans when they returned from Viet Nam.

Great teachers deserve applause.  We’ve even seen too many teachers protect their students with their own lives in the past decade.  Today I applaud Mrs. Waggoner, the woman who taught with such enthusiasm that she pulled me toward this important profession.  I hope I have made her proud.

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

Dauna Easley is a speaker who has been invited to speak in 37 states.

Contact:  dauna@cinci.rr.com

Great Teachers Put Compliments in Writing

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put compliments in writing

As you begin your school year, I want to toss a challenge to you.  Every chance you get to compliment a student, do it.  Don’t just think good thoughts.  Voice them.  But my challenge goes further than that.  Give your compliments ten times their power by putting those positive comments in writing.

At a graduation party I attended a few years ago, I noticed a small note I had written rather spontaneously to this particular graduate.  It was framed and on display on a table among items that defined the graduate’s life.  This note meant so much to her that she wanted to share it with others.  That simple gesture humbled me.  When I saw that hastily written note, I was a little embarrassed at the old note card I had quickly selected to use when I wrote to her.  That particular note card had actually kind of yellowed a little.  It was one that had come from the bottom of a box and had clearly been sitting in that box for years.

Yet while I stood there berating myself for not choosing a fancier stationery, the bigger more important message gradually began to occur to me.   This quickly written message was so important to this young lady that it was framed.  She wanted everyone who came to her graduation party to read it.  At this writing I can’t even remember what I wrote; but it still chokes me up that she framed it and put in on display.

 What touched and frankly scared me so much was the importance that she gave to that note.  It gave me a mental reminder to always picture this note when I wrote to a student in the future.  I wanted to remember the power of even my quick notes and promise myself to only use stationery that wouldn’t shame me if a written message turned up framed and on display at a future graduation party.  I feel certain this young lady will never forget the contents of that rapidly composed note.  Written words have a way of branding our hearts.  What it said took me minutes to compose, but the message will encourage her for a lifetime.

Written words from a teacher have such power to push our students toward success.

Use that influence.  Don’t passively wait for the chance, make the opportunity.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

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

Also available at Amazon.com

What Great Teachers Do in the Summertime

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Great teacher secretsThe Myth

Every great teacher knows too many people who believe teachers only work nine months a year.  Critics point to the calendar and talk about what a cushy job teachers have.  What bunk.

Using this reasoning, baseball players work only half the year.  Clergy work 52 days annually and players in the NFL work less than 20.  Tax accountants work from January 31st until April 15.  Construction workers work only on sunny days. 

Why is it only teachers are singled out and accused of having an abbreviated work year?

I can hear the uproar from the professional football players.  “Twenty days?  What about all our training days?”

Exactly.  What about all the teacher training days?  Many teachers train all summer long.  They take summer classes to get an advanced degree.  They take classes in new technology or a new curriculum.  They have to accumulate college hours to renew their teaching license.  They have to accumulate in-service hours to fulfill their school district’s requirements.  They pay for these classes out of their own pockets, by the way.  How many professional football players pay for their own training?  They are paid hefty salaries TO train.

Many teachers do home visits during the summer months.  Some have Open Houses or accompany students to competitions during “their breaks. ”  I’ve sanded school desks and painted my classroom in the summer time.  I once worked for a school district that required teachers to scrape all the gum off the bottom of the school desks.  No I’m not making this up.

Teacher Conferences that share new teaching strategies are held during “vacation” months.   Textbooks are reviewed, discussed and adopted.  Websites for student use are designed. The class syllabus is written.  Guest speakers are contacted and learning field trips are scheduled.  Some teachers teach summer school all summer long. I know a teacher who welcomed her students back to school today.  (It’s July 30th as I write this).  Hello Annie.  I hope you have a wonderful year with your students!

future teacherA Great Time

Last week I had the chance to do something I love to do.  I had lunch with a young lady who had just been hired for her first teaching job.  She will be teaching first grade beginning in August.  She was just bubbling over with enthusiasm.  She simply can’t wait to get started.  It made me think back to the very beginning of my teaching career.  What a thrill that was to walk into my own classroom.  Her enthusiasm had me reliving my love for the teaching profession.

What is she doing now?  She is going to garage sales to buy books even though her teacher salary hasn’t started.  She is grouping those books into skill levels so her students can make the best use of them. She’s looking for inexpensive ways to decorate her classroom.  I put together four tubs of books for her to use in her classroom.  I looked around my house for items she might be able to use to help her get started.  I doubt that NFL players have to purchase their own helmets.  If they did, they would have the resources to do so.  Teachers spend so much of their own money simply to buy learning materials for their students.

It made me feel wonderful to pass along some tools this new teacher’s students might use to learn.  Next week she’ll begin meeting with her teacher team to set learning goals and write lesson plans.  Great teachers begin planning for their students’ success long before they walk into the room.  And she is going to be one of the greatest teachers ever.

Before you throw things away, think about a teacher who might value your cast offs.  Even better, purchase a gift card to a school supply store for your child’s teacher.  And if you hear someone spouting off about how much time off a teacher has…educate them.

 TEACH to change lives available at Amazon.com

TEACH…To Change Lives

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

Also available at Amazon.com

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