Tag Archives: teacher

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

Absent from School

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the U turn  Life’s Unexpected Detours

Sorry.  The teacher (writer of this blog-Dauna Easley) has been absent.  Quite suddenly, almost a month ago, my mother had to have emergency middle-of-the-night surgery.  Her condition was critical so I have been staying with her day and night in the hospital.

A few days ago she began to improve slightly.  She is now in a facility for acute care until she is strong enough for rehab.  I hope you understand I will return to my blog writing when she is stable. However, she has made great strides in the past few days.  Thank you for your understanding.

However, if you are visiting my blog, please know that there are many wonderful teaching posts for you to read.  Take the time to browse through the ideas and stories I’ve shared during the past year.  There are almost one hundred posts for you to look through.  You’ll see them listed by month along the right margin of this page.

I’d love it if you send me a comment about which ones you enjoy the most. 

If you are an experienced or new teacher who is committed to changing lives in the classroom, I’m certain you will enjoy my book, TEACH…To Change Lives. 

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

Teaching Strategies

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Making Lessons Meaningful

questions from teensAsk any teacher.  What is the most common question students ask?

 Why do we have to learn this?

In junior high and high school you have to add a whining voice or a sneer…and two more words to the end of that question…

Why do we have to learn this stupid stuff?

Now you’re moving closer to the dilemma that teachers face everyday.  The most effective assignments are meaningful to the students.  What’s even better than that?  Classroom assignments that are meaningful to both the students AND their families.  If you can lasso a lesson like that you are sitting on a throne right on top of the learning pyramid.  Yay you!

Let me describe three lessons I’ve run across in the past couple of years that fit smack in the middle of that category.  As a grandparent who also is a teacher, many school projects the grandchildren are assigned are routed in my direction for guidance and encouragement.  Here are three of my favorites.  My hat is off to the teachers who planned these lessons.

Let’s Talk About Love

let's talk about loveA few years ago my seventh grade granddaughter, Taylor had to build a poetry folder.  She had to select a topic and find poems of all kinds to include in that folder.  Her idea wasn’t unique.  The topic she chose was Love.  I wondered how many hundreds of seventh grade girls over the years had chosen love as their topic?

But the assignment was well constructed and this made the project so much more meaningful.  Yes, the students had to gather love poems and tell why they selected those particular poems.  But they also had to write their own poem about love.  Additionally they had to ask two other people to write love poems that they were to include in their portfolio.

This opened up all kinds of meaningful dialogues about love between my granddaughter and me.  I wrote one of those love poems.  I wrote about what love is and what love isn’t.  I told her a story about the boy I secretly “loved” in high school and how I ended up the maid of honor in his wedding…and how I survived that to love again.  We had so many great conversations as we worked on this project together.  I know those conversations will stay with Taylor forever.  Thank you to Ms. Shannon King from Liberty Junior High for that great lesson.

Looking into the Future

looking into the futureMany teachers wisely look into the future to come up with an authentic assignment for their students.  When my grandson was a junior, he had to write an essay that he might later use as a college admissions essay.  The teacher required them to describe themselves and their talents.  What made them unique?

My grandson, Austin came to me for assistance with this task.  He doesn’t like to write and he especially didn’t want to write something “bragging about himself.”  Those were his words.   He chose to write about his background in sports first. (High school boys like to talk about sports as much as seventh grade girls like to talk about love).

Then he hit a wall.  After he wrote about his experiences in sports he didn’t know what else to say.  He counted the words and found his essay wasn’t long enough. He stewed.  He was completely unaware that he has leadership skills.  And he didn’t have a clue about his greatest talent.  He has a unique gift for making others feel valued.  He brings people together.  I watched him do this his whole life.  I had marveled about it to myself many times.

Why had I never put this into words before?  Why didn’t he know that about himself?   That assignment gave me a vehicle for putting this into words.  He was amazed at the things I was saying.  I gave him many examples from his life to make my point.  He listened and nodded.  You could see it was the first time he recognized this ability within himself.

I know this is another conversation that will stay with a grandchild long after I am gone.  Thank you to Ms. Erin Schneider from Lakota East High School for this authentic assignment.  This essay helped him craft future college essays.  In only a couple of weeks he graduates from high school and he was accepted by the college of his choice.

Looking into the Past

authentic assignmentThe most recent authentic assignment happened this past week and was a reminder and the motivation for me to write this post.  Memorial Day is just ahead.  My eighth grade granddaughter, Kiley, was given an assignment by her language arts teacher.  Each student had to find out about a relative who had died before they were born.  They had to interview family members and ask them a list of questions to learn about their deceased relative and give a speech about them.  What a great way to draw families together to discuss their shared past.

This was an especially significant assignment for Kiley.  My youngest daughter, Kelsey, died of cancer at age 16.  She happened to pass away one week before my granddaughter, Kiley was born.  Kiley is her namesake and was given Kelsey as a middle name.  Kiley has heard stories about Kelsey all her life.  However, she dutifully wrote up her interview questions and I filled them out completely.  She even remembered a couple of stories I had forgotten to include.  She asked me to repeat those stories to her.  We did a lot of gathering photos and she assembled her display board.  She emailed me a picture of her poster before she glued things down.

Kiley's poster

She made it through her speech but her voice quivered a quite a bit.  When her chin started shaking she said to herself, “I can’t cry in this class.  There are too many boys in here!”  Everywhere she looked kids were getting tears in their eyes. She had to skip one of the stories she wanted to use, but she made it through.  A success!

But the greater lesson is what she learned by preparing the speech.  That is the hallmark of an authentic assignment.  Meaningful assignments grow the student.  They are memorable in a significant way.  They open channels of communication.  We think about those assignments for years.  I can picture Kiley decades from now helping her own grandchild with a speech.  I’m sure she’ll tell her grandchild about her quivering chin in her speech when she talked about her Aunt Kelsey whom she never met.  Thank you to Ms. Brooke Schreiber from Liberty Junior for your meaningful lesson.

Thank you to all the teachers who take the time to create authentic assignments.

Choose to TEACH…To Change Lives.

The choice is yours.

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

Why Teach?

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Are the Payoffs Worth the Challenges?

challenges and payoffsLet’s be honest.  In many ways teaching is more challenging than ever.  It has always been a profession which demands a person accept a salary which doesn’t reflect the amount of education, dedication and preparation it requires.

However, it used to be a profession that earned the esteem of parents, community members and the public at large.  That is no longer true.  Today’s teachers are blamed for, and at the same time required to heal, all the country’s challenges…test scores, broken  homes, illiteracy, hard economic times, school calendars, the increase in disabilities and second languages, drug dependency, unemployment, latch key children, and hunger in America.  They are maligned by politicians, billionaires, and celebrities.  That is the teacher’s new reality.

So Why Teach?

Why teach?If you look at just the dismal numerical facts and current public opinion,  it can’t be explained.  However, I have been retired from full-time teaching for three school years now.  I do still work with student teachers at the college level, so I am in and out of schools all throughout the school year.  I feel so “at home” whenever I’m in a school building.  Each one has its own unique personality. Listen to some things I am experiencing right now.

  • Yesterday I was invited to the wedding shower of a college grad whom I had taught in high school.  Four years after she left my classroom I am still important in her life.  She turns to me for advice with frequency.  She values the role I have played in her life and the opinions I have.  She tells me so.
  • Not a week passes that I don’t hear from at least a half-dozen former students.  They share their successes, life milestones, and challenges with me.
  • I received a beautiful thank you note this past week from a former high school student who is now a college graduate.  Four years later, she thanked me again for being her teacher.
  • A week ago I noticed a plastic container in a corner of my bedroom.  I couldn’t remember what was inside.  When I looked inside I discovered dozens of thank you notes from students.  Three years ago when I first retired I decided to put thank you notes from students and their parents in a notebook.  I filled a three-ring binder that was three inches thick.  These (that I rediscovered in the corner of my bedroom) were the left over notes.  I had run out of steam before I finished the job.  I decided to finish the task.  I took another two-inch binder to complete the job.
  • When my former students change jobs, (and sometimes even careers) they write and ask for my advice.  Many times they solicit input from me that they won’t accept from their own family members.  That’s not exactly true.  When they were in my classroom, we became a family.
  • My retirement years may not be flush with funds, but it is a wealth of appreciation and valued relationships.  I can live contentedly with that.

Can You?

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

The Danger of Test Scores

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Is This Wise?

Is This Wise?There is a great fable about an imagined animal school which decides to adopt the design structure of schools for humans.  Humans have greater thinking and learning power than animals, right?  Someone erroneously believes they can improve the performance of ALL animals by modeling animal schools after a learning institution for people.  But is this wise?

In this new animal school, rather than the teacher being satisfied with the beaver’s ability to chop down trees and build dams, the teacher also insists the beaver learn to fly.  The results of the beaver’s efforts to fly are, of course, frustrating and even ludicrous. Facing such a failure the beaver is no longer even proud of his innate ability to build dams better than any other animal.

What Are We Doing?

Take a discerning look at our schools.  Isn’t that too close to what we really do?  Instead of identifying and capitalizing on a student’s intrinsic talents, we reduce the time he spends in a pursuit in which he excels and simultaneously increase the amount of time he spends being tutored in a skill for which he has minimal talent.  Think for a moment about this.

In a culture in which we are being driven by only test scores, we remove a student from his favorite class to tutor him/her for a class in which s/he is failing.  Did it work for the beaver?  What a scary philosophy this becomes when you consider the implications not just for individuals, but also for our country.

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Why do we put all our efforts into forcing students to remediate to obtain mere passing scores in a subject area in which they are weak?  Why not use those same efforts to encourage and push them in an area of their brilliance?  What our country really needs is people functioning at the top of their form in the areas in which they excel.  Ignite the flame in the area of their strengths and watch them catapult forward.  If and when we finally do that, our entire nation will benefit.

Great teachers know this.  They search and search until they discover and reveal a student’s talent.  They frequently are the first to reveal that talent to the student.  They give voice to it, encourage it and often push the student to heights they didn’t believe they could ever achieve.

I’m not the national Secretary of Education, but I think one of the things we need to be doing in every school district in America, is identifying individual student’s areas of brilliance and finding ways to encourage, enhance and grow that talent.  Flying beavers are not the answer.

Want to help stop test score obsession?  Please share this blog post with someone.

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

Finding Ways to Make Students Shine

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Against the Odds

against the oddsOne morning in our sheet of staff announcements, there was a mention about an “Against the Odds” award.  This award was being sponsored by the largest newspaper in Cincinnati.  The newspaper wanted to feature ten students across the entire area that were having success in spite of some personal challenges.  They would do an article on each student selected and then invite them to a dinner with business leaders. I ran quickly through my class list mentally.  No one was in a wheel chair, blind or deaf.  It would be a long shot even if they were.  Only ten students – not just from the city – but the whole area.  I’m embarrassed to admit that my vision was so narrow about this opportunity.

Thankfully, Jim Wallace, an insightful guidance counselor suggested I nominate Dorothy.  In spite of being born with a cleft palate and having several surgeries to correct this, she was having some success in our high school career academy early childhood education program.  She worked conscientiously and had high grades in my class.  She held down a job after school hours working in a child care center.  Why not Dorothy?

But let’s be honest, this is frequently where the process breaks down.  What teacher has extra time to go through a lengthy nomination process which usually requires many steps including a well written essay?  Not one teacher I can think of has extra time for such a long shot possibility. It never ceases to amaze me how many letters of recommendation a high school teacher is asked to write and how long a good letter of recommendation takes to author.  But I went to work anyway.  I already knew Dorothy’s mom was disabled with serious health issues.  I had to hold my home visit while she was in bed.  I discovered her father had also died when she was very young.

Weeks later we found out she won the award!  What a significant accomplishment for her this was.  The newspaper sent a professional photographer right into my classroom to shoot a whole roll of film of Dorothy working on the floor with preschoolers.  (I ran a laboratory preschool to train my high school early childhood education students).  The resulting photo in the newspaper was the largest I had ever seen.  It covered 3/4 of the front page of the education section.  After all it was the newspaper that sponsored the award.  The program made for the dinner was even more impressive, all glossy print.  She received a $500.00 scholarship from business leaders.  But best of all a young lady was getting a long overdue chance to shine.  She became a temporary hero in our classroom instead of being just outside the inner circle.  I have no doubt that this was an event that Dorothy will remember forever.

I shudder to think of how I almost over looked this opportunity.  It taught me to dig a little deeper and take a few more risks as I look for a variety of ways to give my students the chance to shine.

graduation

Graduations will be happening soon.  The same students will receive award after award at banquets and scholarship ceremonies.  The vast majority of students will walk across the stage in their caps and gowns and that will be it.  No special accolades except for the scattered applause from their families in a large auditorium.

Only teachers can make that event significant for more than just a small group of students.  Yes, it will take a little more time and effort…time teachers don’t have.  It may even take a little personal out-of-pocket money.  I always liked to buy a small item I thought represented each student’s special talents.  I brought their parents into my classroom ( all of my students).  I carefully chose and dedicated a song to the class.  That song played behind a slide show of their photos and memories we had made.  I wrote a poem just for their class.  I brought students to the front of the room one at a time and told a cute story or two about each one.  I voiced their talents.

If you want to teach to change lives you have to find a way to make every single student feel significant.  It’s a tall order and I promise you I fell short a time or two.  I am human, not a saint. But as I look back over a long teaching career, it was the times I went above and beyond expectations to honor students, that make me most proud.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

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

Also available at Amazon.com

Letters from Teachers

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Lucky Me

Lucky MeI’m a lucky lady alright.  Not only have I had the chance to spend decades involved in the teaching profession that I love, I’ve also been invited to speak to teacher audiences in 37 states.  Sometimes I speak at conferences.  Other times I’m invited to encourage teachers in individual school districts.  I love to use my speaking skills to inspire and encourage teachers.

Have you ever wondered what teachers are thinking?  I have scores of letters from teachers who write to me after they hear me speak.  They tell me exactly what is on their minds.  Listen in on what they have to say.

Dear Dauna,

… Last Friday, as school ended, I was scrubbing up a whole bottle of dried syrupletters from teachers that had been thrown into the broom closet.  At that point I was thinking, “Why did I ever sign up to attend this conference next week?  I still have things to do here AND at home!”  Now I am so glad I came   You were fantastic.  You have made this whole conference worthwhile.  I get the feeling that you are the kind of teacher who would have syrup spill in your closet too.

… You really touched our teachers.  You gave them something that doesn’t come in books or on the internet.  You shared YOU!  Your human compassion and common sense encouraged them like nothing else can.  You gave them a glow that they will not forget.

…Your stories were so moving and so real.  I came away feeling very proud to be a teacher and there are not enough of those moments.

… What a gift you have to move people with your true stories about teaching.  God bless you.

… I’ve been coming to these conferences with the same group of guys for years.  We really enjoy each other’s company.  Frankly we usually just sit in the back and talk through the presentations.  When you gave your speech it was the first time not one of us said anything.  You really hooked us.

… I knew from the moment you stepped in front of our group that you were going to be a huge success.  You have a magic aura around you.  Thank you for turning me into a hero because I was the one who invited you to our state to speak.  I feel as though I’ve not just heard a great teacher speak, I feel as though I’ve made a new friend.

… You humbled me by talking about your failures.  We all have failures but we forget the positive impact we can have by sharing those failures with others.

… My goodness you are an amazing speaker!  I have never seen anyone, ever, control an audience like you did.

( I can’t help it.  I just have to tell you.  That last comment was written by a Georgia senator about ten years ago).

… You made me think of all the teachers whom I should thank.  I hope and pray that someday someone feels the same way toward me.  I know God has put me here for a reason.  Thank you for helping me realize that I may be touching someone right now, even though I can’t see it.

… I almost didn’t come back today.  I’ve been driving to Columbus an hour each way for the past three days to attend this conference.  Last night I almost decided to stay home and avoid one more day of that drive.  But, because of you I’m so glad I didn’t stay home.  You made all that driving for all three  days worthwhile?  Next year you should speak all three days.

… I’ve always thought of myself as a positive person.  I honestly try to take this into the classroom every day.  But at times it’s hard to smile at the little SOB who gives me a rough time.  But after listening to you today, I make you three promises:

  1. I will smile at my problem child.
  2. Every student of mine will hear the fish story.
  3. I will write my 8th grade English teacher a thank you letter.

… At last they finally bring in someone to speak to us who REALLY KNOWS what it’s like to teach.  I felt like you were inside my head hearing my thoughts.  You have had all my same frustrations but you helped me realize that I might really be making a difference.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping me hang in there.

… I came here worn out and wrung out.  You lifted a heavy load from my shoulders and a weight from my chest.

… You know the most important thing I learned from you today?  It is OK to be goofy.  You are a riot!

… Last night I was talking to my wife about how “the job” was going.  I told her I was considering going back into industry because I didn’t feel like I was having a positive impact on my students.  Can it possibly be an accident that I heard you speak today?  Wow, have you given me a boost!  I can go back into the classroom with a positive attitude.  You have reminded me of why I chose teaching.

… You could never believe how much I needed to hear the message you gave us today.  You were speaking directly to me.  I believe your stories will help me be a better person as well as a better teacher.

…I never would have believed I could laugh so hard –  and cry too – in ninety minutes.  The time went by too quickly.  Please come back!

..I’m really not a warm and fuzzy person, but today you have inspired me to work harder and listen to my students more.

…My staff suggested I get you to come back once a month for a shot in the arm.  You touched all of us in a special way.

… I hope someone, somewhere, lets me know I’ve been a positive influence in their life.  Thanks for giving me hope.

Now Dear Readers, Will You Do Me a Favor?

Dauna Casual 2

  • If you enjoy reading my blog posts, could you recommend me to someone who hires speakers to encourage teachers?
  • I’d love to be the opening speaker at your school next year.  Contact me.
  • Are you a teacher who attends in service meetings?  Could you share a link from my blog posts with the person who invites speakers to your district?
  • Are you in charge of hiring speakers for teacher conferences?
  • My email address is the best way to reach me:   dauna@cinci.rr.com

My past audience members are the ones who encouraged me to write a book for teachers.  I’ve now written two.  Some universities are having their education students read my books.  Here is my most recent book for teachers.

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

Teaching Celebrations and Frustrations

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Celebrations

What I learned from bloggingRecently while navigating through the pages that support my blog site, I stumbled upon a page full of statistics where I learned that…

…during the past 90 days my teacher blog

at DaunaEasley.com

has been read by people in 35 different countries! 

                                   I was amazed and humbled.

A person writing a teacher blog should probably never admit this; but some of those countries I had never even heard of.  (Thankfully I didn’t teach high school geography).

Sometimes it is a lonely commitment, to sit down at my desk in my home and type my heart out about the teaching profession I love.  You wonder if anyone will ever value (or even read) the words that you write.  Thank you loyal followers.  You make my efforts feel so worthwhile.  At 3:00 am (yes that is the current time when I’m writing this), it helps to know that my words are welcome in places around the world I will never have the opportunity to visit.  I am in awe.

Teaching Frustrations

frustrationsRecently while watching a young student teacher assign homework to a group of middle school students, I heard all the young teens groan.  What was their frustration?  Their homework was being assigned out of the textbook.  Their texts were huge and they didn’t want to carry the book home in their backpacks along with all their other texts.  The teacher gave a brief apology.  “We don’t have paper to use.  The budget is low.  We have to use our textbooks for homework. Sorry.”

I know when I start to describe this dilemma there will be people who won’t understand.  They’ll tell me that no child in Africa has a textbook and they would be honored to have one to use.  Other people will tell me about classrooms around the world where the entire class must share a pencil or scratch their calculations out with a stick in the sand.  Maybe, in hindsight, I shouldn’t have even brought this up when I have just bragged about 35 countries reading this blog.  Awkward moment.

However, can you imagine corporations in America telling their employees to market, design, and produce a product without using paper?  It is a ludicrous notion.  And yet it happens in our classrooms all the time.  Teachers are routinely asked to teach without supplies as basic as paper.  For decades I have listened to administrators beg and then threaten teachers not to use paper or copy machines.  School budgets simply can’t absorb the cost of paper or copy machine repair.  Taxpayers will vote for building a new school.  But they will not vote money for a school operating levy.

broken political promises

Before every election, politicians make hefty promises to support education.  After every election they promise taxpayers to make hefty budget cuts.  The first to be deserted?  The schools…more correctly…the students.

I once wrote a humorous piece on copy machines in schools that I will share here.  If you’ve never worked in a school, you won’t believe it.  But every single situation is something I have experienced while teaching in schools in America.

Copiers

I’m not talking about kids who don’t want to study and look on classmates’ papers during a test.  I’m talking about machines that copy worksheets, newsletters to parents and homework assignments.  Here is  the reality within schools.

school frustrations

  • The only safe and accurate assumption to make is that no school in America will ever have a copier for teachers to use.  Don’t set your standards too high.  The reality will hurt too much.
  • I don’t mean that there won’t be one on the premises.  Usually if you know where to look you can spot one.  In my job before my last teaching job, I could spot one near my classroom.  It was in a small room with glass windows, but the door was locked.  You could see it and salivate, but that was all. I struggled for five years to get a key to that door.  Remember this is a true story.
  • If you ever actually spot a copy machine on school premises don’t get too excited.  Some copy machines are never allowed to be used by teachers.  Only administrators and secretaries have the authority to use them.  Intelligence and advanced degrees won’t buy you the right to touch them.
  • If the copy machine assigned to teachers is on, it will ask for a password.  But the password you’ve been assigned will never work when you need it most.  In some instances it will never work at all.  You will have to exchange other school supplies (like staplers, and 3 hole punches) to use the password of another teacher.  But they will never let you know their password, they will only tap it in quickly with their hand covering the little window on the machine.  They are not fools.  Teachers with working passwords are like English royalty.  No working password?  Learn to curtsy.
  • If you report to your administrator that your password is not working they will tell you to fill out a form…these days online…and send a request to technology.  You will never be able to find the name of the form. It will probably be named nwpw#3256.  That stands for non-working passwordThey throw in the numbers because they are afraid you might figure out the name of the form and consequently use paper and toner.
  • If you ever get a password and see a copy machine with no line next to it, trust me it isn’t working. Go ahead.  Don’t believe me.  It may appear to be working. Unfortunately you will only believe this after it eats your master copy.
  • No matter how early you arrive at school or how late you stay, the copy machine will always have a long line next to it.
  • If you arrive at 5:00 am and there is no line next to it, you will be in charge of turning it on.  It will take forever to warm up.  If you stand there and wait, forty-five minutes later you will finally figure out that it isn’t working.
  • If you turn it on to warm up and come back twenty minutes later to run your copies, there will be one person in front of you at 5:20.  They will be running 30 page packets.
  • No plan bell is ever long enough to work your way to the front of the copy line.  You will make it to the front of the line at the exact moment you have to be back in class teaching.
  • If you finally do get to the front of the copy line and are excited, you are only moments away from discovering that the person in line in front of you jammed the machine.  They will never admit this and you will be left trying to unjam his jam and everyone behind you will believe you broke the machine.  They will be complaining about you all over the building that day.
  • If you find that the machine does not have a line, your password actually works, and it doesn’t show a jam, there is only one possible explanation.  There is no paper left in the cabinet.
  • If you report to the administrator (or more probably someone he has designated) that there is not paper in the cabinet, she will tell you that you must order copy paper from your budget.
  • You have no budget for ordering paper.
  • Kinkos (is that still their name?), Staples and Office Depot know all these facts and love them.  Their stock is buffered by the long line of teachers who use their take home salaries to buy copy paper and run off work for their students.

Thus I return to and stand by my original premise.  No school in America will have a copier for a teacher’s use.  We can replace  chalkboards with wipe off boards and sometimes even smart boards.  Every kid can carry a cell phone and an electronic notebook.  Those that can’t, will soon have to walk to the public library to submit their work online, because no school in the Land of the Free can afford copy paper.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

Autographed or in large quantities by the author:  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

A Parent Teacher Conference I’ll Never Forget

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Meaningful Moments

parent teacher conferenceI taught for more decades than I care to admit. During that time I’ve probably conducted thousands of parent teacher conferences.  Many of those memories run together.  However possibly a dozen parent conferences stand out in my mind because of what they taught me.

One time while teaching future teachers in a Teacher Academy program at high school level, I had the opportunity to talk with Jack’s mom.  Jack was a junior in my class and an all around great guy.  Everyone loved Jack. This particular class happened to be dominated by girls which meant that sometimes there was female drama percolating just below the surface within the classroom. But somehow Jack could stay above it and even maintain a friendship with every single female in the class.  Watching him I knew he had the diplomacy, humor and kindness to be a great teacher.  He instinctively knew how to make people feel valued.

Early in the year I asked the students in my Teacher Academy to give a speech on any topic of their own choosing.   I wanted them to use the Smart Board, make slides, practice speaking comfortably in front of the class so I allowed the topic to be a topic of their choice.  Jack’s topic surprised all of us.

How NOT to Get a Girlfriend

As speeches go it was terrific.  He had the attention of every person in the classroom.  He had made wonderful slides.  His premise was that girls aren’t really attracted to the thoughtful, nice guys.

  • Drive them to school and carry their books from class to class….THAT won’t get you a girlfriend.
  • Listen to them talk about their boyfriend’s bad habits and build up their self esteem…THAT won’t get you a girlfriend.
  • Bring them a flower or buy them a dessert in the cafeteria…THAT won’t get you a girlfriend.

He went through several such examples accompanied by humorous slides.  Every person in the class was laughing and attentive.  They could hear the truth in his comments.  When he had his audience primed and ready,  Jack showed his final slide titled…

The Only Way to REALLY Get a Girlfriend

  • Reach into your pockets filled with lots of money, pull the money out and say, “I have all this money to spend and I don’t know what to do with it.  Do you want to go to the mall?”  THEN you’ll have a girlfriend.

Needless to say it was a very effective speech for a room full of high school students.  Everyone was laughing and recognizing the uncomfortable truth in some of what Jack was saying.  Why do high school girls overlook some of the best guys?

The Parent Teacher Conference Continues

I love telling parents cute stories about their kids.  I thought perhaps Jack had told his family about his speech at home, maybe even practiced it in front of them, but he hadn’t.  As I told his mom this story I could see that she was hearing it for the first time.  I was laughing but she had tears in her eyes.  I was confused.  I paused to let her tell me why she was upset.  She was too emotional to speak so she motioned for me to continue.

I started to understand that she had bad news to share, but I went on to tell her another story about Jack.  He knew even as a junior in high school that he wanted to teach junior high level.  Part of my job was to procure placements within the district for my students to shadow current professional teachers.  I had Jack placed in a junior high classroom.  It is daunting for even adults to get up in front of junior high students and maintain control of the class.  Jack was only a junior in high school, just a couple of years older than these young teens, and yet he had an instinct for handling this age group using just the right combination of firmness and humor.  He impressed even this seasoned teacher. I described to his mom a class I saw him teach successfully in a junior high health class.

By now Jack’s mom had tears running down her cheeks.  She was openly crying. I knew that she was going to reveal that she had a life threatening illness.  I braced myself for the bad news and was thinking of encouraging things I might say in response.  I waited a few beats and asked, “So why the tears?”

Here’s what she said while trying hard to control her emotions.

Mrs. Easley, Jack has two older sisters, both of whom knew exactly what they wanted to do in life. They knew what their career path would be from a young age and then went straight toward their goals.  Jack has been so different from them.  He didn’t seem to know what he wanted to do.  In Junior High he just seemed to get off course.  His grades started to slip.  Things he cared about previously he just kind of gave up on.  His friends changed.  We have just been so worried about him.  We just wanted him to find something he loved.  We’ve had so many conversations about what was going to happen to Jack.

She paused.

When he signed up for the Teacher Academy program we were surprised…pleased, but maybe just a little skeptical.  But right now, in the past ten minutes, listening to you, I realize that Jack has found his niche.  I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the stories you shared with me.  Jack has found his niche. It is the biggest relief to know that he has found something he loves and then to know he is good at it…it is the best possible news.

It took a lot of kleenex for her to get her story out.  Her gratitude and relief was so great that she just let the tears flow.

It is one of the conferences I will never forget.  I had completely blindsided her with good news.  Isn’t it wonderful when a teacher can play that role?  It gave me a renewed resolve to take time to share stories with parents.  Conferences aren’t just about rattling off test scores and homework expectations.  The very best parent teacher conferences are about listening to parents and then blindsiding them with great news and stories about their kid.

Guess What?

A couple of weeks ago I heard from Jack.  I think of him frequently and even made an attempt to find him last summer, but failed.  But only a couple of weeks ago his name popped up on my Facebook page.  He now has his Masters Degree in Education from The Ohio State University.  I’m impressed but not surprised. He has a long-term substitute teaching job, with a full-time teaching job possibility on the horizon.  Oh, and also he coaches a junior high girls’ basketball team.

I know he is going to be great with this age group, even the ones who get a little off course…maybe especially those kids.  I know he is just the kind of guy who will blindside their parents with good news at conference time.

On the days when my life has too many challenges, I think about all the wonderful kids I knew when they were aspiring future teachers.  Most of them are in the classroom now or only a year or two away from it.  It makes me optimistic about our schools’ future and optimistic about the teachers in front of today’s students.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

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

Also available at Amazon.com