Tag Archives: teaching

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

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

Helping Students Create Their Own Destiny

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YOU Create Your Own Destiny

Create your destiny

Between stimulus and response there is a space.

In that space is our power to choose our response.

In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

                                            -Viktor E. Frankl

These words have always inspired me.  Written by a man who survived the concentration camps of the holocaust makes them even more significant.  We cannot control many of the things that happen to us in life; but we have absolute control over the ways we respond to those events.

One of our greatest roles as teachers, is to teach truths about life.  Sure, we are hired to teach our academic areas; but I believe we miss one of our most important choices if we don’t also teach underlying truths that help our students live a successful life.  This quote helped me come up with a way to teach students that they have the power to create their own destiny.  How did I do that?

Early in the school year, I put a dot or a star on the far left margin of the chalk board.  (Think wipe-off board or electronic board these days).  Then I would move to the farthest right side of the board and make another dot or star.

I would pause until they seemed interested in what I was doing.  You can do a lot of teaching in the pauses.  Once they seemed quiet and curious I would say as I pointed…

This dot on the left side of the board represents the things that happen to us as we live our lives.

Pause

Sometimes those events are terrible. Someone we love rejects us. 

(Teens always are interested in matters of the heart).

Pause

Sometimes we work hard toward a goal and yet we get passed over.  Someone else gets recognition that we deserve.  We lose our jobs.  A loved one dies.  Someone insults you or passes around untrue gossip about you.  Someone steals something from you.  Someone hurts you deeply.

(Each time I offer one of these scenarios I once again point to the star or dot on the left side of the board).    I sometimes ask them to add bad things that might happen in life.

Then I move to slowly the left side of the board and point to the dot on the far right.

Way, way over here on the far right side of the board is the way you respond to those events.

Pause

Do you know what is between these two dots?

Usually they just look at me and wait.  Sometimes someone will make a joke and say, “Nothing?”

Pause

The only thing that lies between an event and what you do to respond to that event, is your choice.  No matter what happens to us, we always, always, have control over the way we respond to it.

create your destiny

We need to remember only we have the choice to decide how we respond.  We always choose.  It is those choices that determine our destiny.  Look carefully.  What is between those two dots? 

I  then v-e-r-y  s-l-o-w-l-y draw a wavy line between those two dots on opposite ends of the board.

choices

You have allllllll this time between the two dots, between the event and your response to decide how you are going to respond.

Choosing the way you will respond, making the choice creates your destiny.  What happens to you, doesn’t create your destiny.  Your choices in the way you react create your destiny.

Teens (and some adults) limit their destiny when they react without thinking…without making a choice.  They say things like, “Well, he pushed me so I punched him,” or “When she looked at me like that I just had to tell her off.”

Wrong.  Your reaction was a choice.

Teens will tell me that their parents or buddies told them never to let people treat you like that.

Look around you.  Are the people who give you this “punch-them-in-the-face” advice… are they themselves a success in life?  Are they living a life you want to emulate?  Well, are they

Or are they in prison or holding entry-level jobs or no jobs even though they are middle age?

You create your own destiny by the choices you make between any stimulus and the response you choose.

Let’s be honest, sometime in life we’ve all made a mistake with a knee-jerk reaction to a situation.  I know I have.  But I later regretted my response.  I share a couple of examples of my own mistakes with my students.  We can teach quite a bit by sharing our failures and vulnerabilities.  They hear us best when we aren’t preaching.

As the year progresses and a teen or two will invariably make a poor choice, I don’t have to say anything.  I just go to the board, make my two dots, and draw the wavy line in between.  No words have to be spoken, though many of the students will give that little hum (or groan) of understanding.

I find it’s best to do this activity early in the year before a poor choice has occurred.  That way no student is made the target of the exercise.  When students come into class all excited about a fight that has just occurred in the cafeteria or hallway, I just draw my two dots and that slow wavy line in between.  They get it. They may say something like, “No, seriously Mrs. E. you should have seen it, it was so cool.” But I just draw my two dots and my wavy line again.

What is My Hope?

a teacher's hopeSomeday when I’m no longer standing in front of them in a classroom, my students will remember the two dots and the long wavy line between them.  They will realize that they have the power to create their own destiny with the choices they make.  They won’t feel they have to become the victim of their own poor choices even if lousy choices were all that was modeled for them.

When I move outside the sometimes confining limits of my academic area, I often feel like I’m doing my most important teaching.  It is when I most feel like I am teaching 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

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

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

Great Classroom Activity

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Which Words Rule Our Lives?

Words that Rule Our LivesIt’s important for us that we know the words that rule our lives. This is a great activity I learned from my own high school students, Taylor and Cody.  The assignment was for each of my students who aspired to be future teachers, to teach a lesson in front of their classmates.  At the time of this assignment the classic children’s book Where the Wild Things Are had just been made into a movie and was being shown in theaters.  Taylor and Cody began their lesson by having the students watch the movie trailer.  In a very effective style the trailer pointed out that each of us has three words within us.  We all possess a little fear.  We all crave a little adventure.  And we all need a little hope.

movie trailerHow clever Taylor and Cody were to get Hollywood to create the hook for their lesson!  The movie trailer was quite effective and had every student’s attention.  The “teachers” then asked the class to focus on those three words:  fear, adventure and hope.

Decide which one of those words rules your life.

Think about it and then share it with your peers.

After a few minutes of thought they brought the class together into a cozy circle.

teens in a circle

Each student truthfully described which of these three words currently seemed to dominate their lives.  They were very honest and revealing.  (I believe students truly want to share what is on their minds.  I’ve seen it too many times to be wrong about this).  It is the challenge of an insightful teacher to find a vehicle that will encourage that sharing.

After everyone had shared their thoughts, the teaching partners posed a second question…

Are you satisfied with the word that seems to drive your life right now?

Once again the students took turns sharing their answers.  This kind of activity will only be successful if a teacher has previously created a safe, accepting environment in which all students feel free to share.  Once again the answers were candid and insightful.  This activity forced each of us to assess our lives.  It forced us to evaluate our motives, to really think about the choices we were making and whether those choices served us well.  It also built tremendous understanding and empathy among class members.  It deepened our sense of community.  As a side benefit it is important to recognize…bullies can’t thrive when you build a sense of acceptance within a classroom community.  How proud I was of my students for creating such an effective experience for our class.

dream big

Is there one word that seems to drive your life?  Fear?  Adventure? Hope?  Which one is it?  I always participate fully in any revealing activity like this in my classroom.  It bonds the teacher with the class.  It builds understanding across generations and defines the classroom as a safe place.  Even more important it shows the students the teacher is willing to talk about feelings.  It gives them the courage to approach the teacher when something really important is on their minds.  It puts a welcome mat in front of the door to your classroom and your heart.

Thank you Taylor and Cody, for creating this wonderful lesson for me to share with others!

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

What is Important?

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School Rules

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

Life Rules Matter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I always have time to talk about how busy I am

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

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

Likewise students are completely inundated with electronics.

What is important?

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

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

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

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

Also available at Amazon.com

The Power of Optimism

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Ask the Students

ask the studentsOptimism is a quality that flavors everything all day long.  We can expect the best in our lives and therefore give the universe an opportuntity to attract good things our way.  Or we can worry and grumble about the bad things that always seem to invade our space.  It is a choice we make every day.

Every year I ask students to identify great teachers from their lives.  Then we write letters to them.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that they describe the teacher’s personal qualities more often than they talk about the academic material that they learned.

Again and again I hear these comments…

She’s fun.

He likes to make jokes when he teaches.

He is so enthusiastic.

She doesn’t treat us like we are kids.

She is interested when we have problems.

We want to spend time with people who make us feel good.  Our students do too.  They are attracted to adults, parent, grandparents and teachers who are optimistic.

The Money Jar

The money jar

One of the differences I noticed between elementary aged children and teens is the lack of optimism that seems to prevail in the adolescent species.  Sometimes it seems like being optimistic isn’t cool.  When young children walk into your classroom, they are excited to see you and be in school.  They ask right away, “What do we get to do today?”

However, when teens walk in and I say, “Hi Tyler!  How are you this morning?”  One hundred percent of the time they say, “Tired,” or  “I don’t feel good.”  It can be downright depressing if you let it get to you.  I finally told my teens they had to give me a quarter for my reward jar every time they told me they were tired.  Did it stop them?  No.  But it made them think.  Now when I ask them how they are, they say things like, “I’d tell you, but it would cost me money.”

When I worked with teens on a daily basis, I had to listen to upbeat music on the way to school.  I used motivational or inspirational CDs in the car.  Do whatever it takes to remain optimistic for our students.  They need it from us.

On a Personal Note

 optimismEvery activity I write about is part of my personal teaching life.  Every story I tell is true.  On a rare occasion I talk about an experience with one of my children or grandchildren and explain lessons that they have taught me and ways they have changed me as a teacher.

Other than that I don’t mention my personal life very often.  Today I’m going to break that silence  just a little.  In December my husband suffered a heart attack and a stroke. I was absent on my Christmas Eve post because we spent 12 days in the hospital including all of the holidays.  This past Friday he had his second stroke.  We came home from the hospital yesterday afternoon.   Yes, it is a bit stressful and emotional.  But there is always a choice in how we react.  I’m focusing on the progress he is making every day as his language gradually returns to him.  I’m feeling grateful that this stroke revealed a new heart issue that we didn’t know he had.  I’m believing his situation is temporary.  If I adopt a gloom and doom attitude, will it make anything better?  No.  It will rob us of the small joys we have everyday.

It is how we live our lives everyday that impacts our students (and children) the most.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

Autographed copies and large quantities available:  dauna@cinci.rr.com

Also available at Amazon.com