Tag Archives: teens

Big Shoes to Fill

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Kelsey big shoesI think my daughter was about 3 when I snapped this photo of her.  Look closely at her feet.  You’ll see she is trying on my high heels she found near the front door even though she isn’t even really dressed for the day yet.  Doesn’t every kid do that at one time or another?  My shoes look so big on her feet.  As it turns out, those shoes and that role became her dream.  I’m sure those are the heels I had on as a taught that day.  Kelsey attended the school where I taught, so it wasn’t such a stretch to understand why she wanted to grow up to become a teacher.

But life did a reversal on us and today I try to fill her shoes.  You see, Kelsey was diagnosed with brain cancer when she was only five.  The brain radiation required for her to survive, altered her IQ significantly.  Radiation that kills cancer cells also kills healthy brain cells.  So not only did Kelsey battle cancer she was changed from having an above average intelligence to becoming what society politely calls “special needs.”

Watching this happen to her changed me dramatically as a teacher.  I learned what it feels like to sit on the uncomfortable side (the parents’ side) of the IEP table.  I experienced how it felt to see her friends begin to turn away from her.  I helplessly watched her social loneliness during the high school years.  This changed me as a mom, a person and especially as a teacher.

So what did I do about it?  I’m not a celebrity.  I can’t challenge big stars on TV to dump buckets of ice water over their heads even though watching Kelsey’s battles felt like ice water being dumped on me daily.  Celebrities wouldn’t answer any challenge from me.  Day in and day out, what did I do?  I’m a teacher.  So I talked about Kelsey in my classroom.  I made students understand her battles.  I made them think about what it would feel like to walk in her shoes.

In one way I was very lucky.  I happened to teach high school students who wanted to become teachers.  I assigned each of them to write an essay about what it would feel like to walk through a day of high school with a disability.  I made them put into words what it would feel like to walk into a cafeteria full of typical kids if they had a disability. How would it feel to walk in the hallways or go to a dance?  I made them share those essays out loud.  They hated this assignment because it made them feel so uncomfortable, but they did it…for a grade.  Before they wrote these essays I read an essay that I had written about Kelsey.  I wrote it in Kelsey’s voice even though she didn’t actually write it.  I used exactly the words she had shared with me about the rejections she experienced.  To hear her true story made them squirm in their seats.

When I spoke at teacher conferences, I used to give out my essay to other teachers.  I’ve received letters and emails from teachers all over the country who have used this essay in their classrooms.  The title?  ‘Nobody Wants to Have a Disability, But I Have One.”  I made each of them start their essay with the words, “My name is (and they had to use their own names) and I have (name a disability).  Then they had to write about a full day of school with that disability.  I made them focus on their feelings, not just the facts of the disability.  How did it feel to walk through a day of school with that disability.

As they read these essays orally one after another, I could feel a shift in my classroom.   They hated the activity but they won’t ever forget it.

Then I had my Teacher Academy kids (high school juniors and seniors who wanted to become teachers) start a Friendship Club with the high school kids in our school with disabilities.  We planned monthly shared activities with them.  I watched true friendships form.  No matter what subject they planned to teach in their futures I wanted them to understand how it feels to be excluded.  I wanted all of them to become teachers who included everyone.  I wanted them to change the culture within their future school buildings.  I believe once we actually have to face the feeling of being excluded, once we can link a personality and an actual person to a disability it can’t help but change us inside.

Often I am invited to give speeches to special educators and I enjoy those invitations.  But I MOST like to talk to what we call “regular educators.”  I like to share stories with teachers who haven’t been specifically trained to work with kids with special needs.  Those are the teachers who most need the messages Kelsey shared with me.  I’m a “regular educator” myself and Kelsey experiences first had to change me.

A strange and unexpected thing happened as I shared Kelsey’s message.  This is something I didn’t plan at all.  As a direct result of hearing about Kelsey’s experiences, an amazing number of my students became special educators themselves.  (Today we call them intervention specialists).  Let me repeat, this wasn’t at all my goal, it just happened.  Without even trying I dumped buckets of ice all over them.  Just putting a person’s name and face to the experience drenched them with new understanding.  They now wanted to become change agents themselves.

Kelsey's lessonsSadly Kelsey didn’t live to fill my shoes and become a teacher herself.  She died at age 16 after an eleven year on-and-off battle with brain cancer.  Today I still attempt to fill her shoes as I share her story one student at a time.  We teachers sometimes have more power than a celebrity.  One day at a time, one student at a time, one story at a time, we change the world.  We have the power of a thousand buckets of ice if we just recognze it and use it for a positive purpose.

One day while teaching some aspect of child development in the classroom, I told another story about Kelsey.  A student asked with impatience in her voice, “Why do you talk about Kelsey so much?”

Now you know.  I have big shoes to fill.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

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

Also available at Amazon.com

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

My Toughest Year in the Classroom

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toughest year in the classroom

Something happened this week.  One young lady I know and love experienced her first week in front of a classroom full of students.  She was hired on Sunday evening and drove two hours out-of-town for her first teachers’ meeting which was to take place at 8:00 on Monday morning, the very next day.  Her new students arrived Wednesday.  She had never even seen the school before her first day.  How did this happen?  Who knows?  But embarrassingly it happens all the time in our profession.  My young friend was tired of the endless interviews for teaching positions.  It was the last week in August and she was determined to take any job offered.  The good news is…she has her start.  Even better news…she’ll be a good teacher.

What was her email comment on Friday after her first week of school?

I used to think I looked forward to and appreciated Fridays.  Turns out I was way under appreciating them all these years.

I laughed when I read her comment.  It took me back to the toughest year I ever had as a teacher.  It was a year I’ll never forget, like a bad nightmare that stays in your psyche and haunts you forever.  I was luckier than my young fledgling teacher.  My toughest year came after I had already been teaching for more than 20 years.  By then I was a confident and experienced professional who didn’t think anything a student could conjure would knock me off my game.  I was competent.  I was prepared.  I was wrong.

Picture This

picture this

In one week I went from teaching primary aged students to high school seniors!  I went from teaching in a private school that I owned to a high school with students considered “at risk.”  I had teen moms, many pregnant students, and kids with parents in jail.  On the first day of school when I asked them to introduce themselves with 3 descriptive words, several of them announced they had “an attitude.”  They saw this as a positive attribute.  They were proud of their attitudes.  I went from suburban type students to predominantly urban kids who came from different neighborhoods who didn’t like each other.  The only thing that united them was their dislike for me.  They all agreed on one thing.  I had to go. Those kids reared up and took a bite right out of my backside when I wasn’t looking.

teacher challenges

I only made it to the second day of school at 11:00 am when I knew I was going to cry in front of the class.  They were passing a basket around the classroom and asking their peers to contribute money to buy me a ticket out-of-town.  No, I’m not making this up.  I was used to children who loved me.  I knew I was going to cry and worse…I knew they would love to see my tears.  Not crying in front of them became my number one goal.  But I could feel the tears just ready to spill over.  What was I going to do?

I was so new in this building I couldn’t even decipher when the bells were ringing.  All day long you would hear bings, buzzes and bells coming into your classroom.  I later learned that there were a certain numbers of bings and buzzes to call each administrator.  The kids knew when the change class tone sounded, but I didn’t.  One of those buzzes started to sound.  Maybe they were going to leave for lunch but I wasn’t certain.  I spotted the closet door.  I decided I would walk through that door and act like I was looking for something in the closet so they wouldn’t see my tears.  I tried not to run.  I tried to look like a woman who was just going to the closet to look for something.  I opened the door and walked through.  It turned out not to be a closet after all.  I was right in the middle of another classroom, not the closet, but I burst into tears anyway.

I got lucky.  It did happen to be the lunch bell.  My students vacated the room and I had a half an hour to pull myself together before the torture began anew.  At the end of my first week I called the friend who had recommended me for the position and apologized to her, but told her I was going to quit.  I called my mom and told her I was going to quit.  But I didn’t.  I hung in there.  If I told you all the things my students did to me that year, you would never believe me.  You would also stop reading my blog because I would sound like an ineffective nincompoop.  I made many mistakes that year.  But I grew more as a teacher than during any other year of my teaching career.

What My Students Taught Me

rejection

  • Hearts that have been rejected will reject others in self-defense.   They think, “I’ll reject you first so you can’t hurt me.”   It has very little to do with you.  The rejection isn’t personal, but it sure feels that way until you understand that truth.
  • Once students know you really care about them, they will be your staunchest champion.  But you have to prove you care about them first.  And in an environment like this you have to prove it every year.
  • I’ve learned you can’t talk to high school students the same way you talk to third graders.  It doesn’t work.  I was used to saying things like “Oh I like the way Megan has started her assignment.”  That is how clueless I was.  Believe me that strategy doesn’t work in a tough high school environment.
  • I learned to cuss.  I’m not saying that was a good thing.  And I never used profanity in front of my students but I was so surrounded by it, I found it peppering my personal conversation when I wasn’t on the job.  I was in my forties and had never sworn.  I still don’t use the really offensive words, but It makes some of my conversations a lot more humorous, because it astounds people who know me well.
  • Other than cussing with my friends, I stayed true to myself.  I didn’t get pulled into the drama that surrounded me.  I didn’t yell.  I didn’t meet sarcasm with sarcasm.  I stayed calm and was able to be a positive role model.  Most of these students had lives steeped in drama.  They needed positive role models more than they needed anything else.
  • That old adage, “The more you put into something, the more you get out of it,” is 100% true.  I have never worked so hard in my life, but I also never changed lives so dramatically as I did in that environment.  When kids don’t have other positive role models, you can make the most profound difference in their lives.

The worth of a teacher

Teachers measure their worth by the lives that they change.

                                            – Dauna Easley

  • That first really tough year helped me grow immensely as a teacher.  It groomed me to teach future teachers.  If you want to be an effective teacher for future teachers you need a wide variety of experiences.  It helped me begin writing books.  I had a message.  I had stories to tell.  I spent 12 years at that job I thought I would quit at the end of the first week.  I learned I could persevere through challenging circumstances.  That alone is an important life lesson.
  • Those kids groomed me, chiseled me and sometimes even sandblasted me, until I became a true teacher.

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

Book Dauna Easley to speak to your group.  dauna@cinci.rr.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

Ten Great Things About Teens

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What I Love About Teens

First a confession.  I taught elementary students for more than twenty years before I moved into the high school setting.  At that point in my life, teens scared me to death.  They seemed to have raging hormones, defiant attitudes, piercings, tattoos, too-tight clothes or pants falling off them.  And worse, they didn’t like their teachers.  My elementary kids loved me.  I felt sorry for high school teachers.  Then I became one. I was scared to death.  Yeah, there were some rough moments.  But here are the qualities I learned to love and admire about teens.

  1. They laugh easily.  They can laugh about absolutely nothing and then laugh at the fact that they are laughing about nothing.  Being around young people who joke and laugh is refreshing.  It makes me remember the joy of silliness simply for the sake of silliness.  Laughing feels good.
  2. They are young enough to question what is right and wrong.  As we get older we tend to accept things that are unjust.  We’ve seen unfair situations and have grown to tolerate them.  Young people are looking at these situations with newer eyes.  They help us question the status quo. They change things because they still believe they can.  They help me believe I too can change situations that are unjust.
  3. Teens are hopeful.  Their whole life is before them.  They are excited about all the possibilities.  They help me become more courageous and optimistic about the future.  Their hope is contagious.
  4. Teens understand technology.  Boy do they!  They’ve been immersed in technology for their whole short lives.  But here is the really wonderful part.  They will share that expertise with you.  My favorite teens, of course, were the ones who would assist me with technology issues without teasing me about my slight ineptitude in that area.  I’ve learned so much from them as I taught them.  It was a symbiotic relationship. It was teens who encouraged me to blog.  They believed I had something of value to share with others.
  5. Teens have great passion.  They are ‘all hands on deck’ when they take on a project of their choice.  They volunteer to take on huge tasks without even questioning the magnitude of it.  As we get older, we tend to stop and think, “Do I really have time for this?”  Teens can often accomplish amazing feats because they just go forth and do.
  6. I love their resiliency.  I’ve watched teens who lived in some very challenging situations accept adult responsibilities and handle them better than a lot of adults.  Usually no one knows their circumstances.  They raise younger siblings, pay household bills, moderate difficult situations at home, or deal with a parent fighting an addiction.  Some have an absent or unknown parent (or parents) and they accept the parent role long before their chronological age identifies them as such.
  7. Teens are generous.  They will take in a friend, buy someone’s lunch, care about the homeless, volunteer in a soup kitchen or rake leaves for the elderly.  Unfortunately you won’t see these stories in the media.  But I’ve been on the front lines and have witnessed it again and again.
  8. When I taught young children they used to write me little notes.  Dear Mrs.  Easley,    I love you.  Do you love me?  Check yes ___ or no___. They’d draw me a picture or bring me a flower or an apple.  I knew I would miss those notes when I moved to high school.   I was wrong.  I have a giant 3 ring notebook full of notes, cards and some pretty lengthy letters teens have written to me.  I have many more letters and notes that won’t fit into that notebook.  There are, however, a few differences in high schooler’s written communication.  They usually drop them on your desk privately on their way out the door when no one is looking.  But if they trust you, many will pour their hearts out on paper in great detail.  They will share their worries and also tell you how much you mean to them.
  9. They will remember you.  There is a fast turn around with teens.  Almost immediately after they leave high school (or your home), they value you.  They send you emails, call you, and will meet you for lunch.  I taught so many preschoolers, kindergarteners and first graders.  Do they remember me?  I’m not sure.  I know I remember them. The moment teens toss their graduation hats into the air, they begin to remember you fondly and seek out your advice.  Some realize this even sooner.
  10. Teens are loyal beyond belief.  If you care about them they will care about you.  Your age doesn’t matter.  They will shun your enemies and fight battles for you whether you want them to or not.  Teens may test you a little initially, but once they know you truly care about them, they will challenge anyone who seeks to harm you.

My best advice for working with teens?  Ignore the sagging pants, the sometimes surly early morning attitudes, and the crazy styles of the day.  Look beneath the pink hair and beyond the melt down of the moment.  Focus on the best qualities you find in the teens you love.  What we focus on will grow.  Visualize the success that you can see in their future and describe it to them.  Young people often first recognize their talents and visualize their future success when it is pointed out to them by someone they love and respect.  Are you that person?

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

Available at Amazon.com

Teachers Create the Classroom

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                        The Teacher Makes the Choice

Image credit: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/photo_7438300_illustration-of-a-lighthouse-illuminating-the-night.html'>lisann / 123RF Stock Photo</a>One of my all time favorite quotes for teachers was written by Dr. Haim Ginott and comes from his book Between Teacher and Child.

“I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom.  It is my personal approach that creates the climate.  It is my daily mood that makes the weather.  As a teacher I possess tremendous power to make a child’s like miserable or joyous.  I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration.  I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal.  In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated, and a child humanized or de-humanized.”

Oh, how I wish I had written that myself.  I am so grateful that someone did.  The book, Between Teacher and Child is around forty years old and yet contains advice that is timeless.

Image credit: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/photo_8535805_a-wooden-ruler-with-the-words-do-you-measure-up-symbolizing-personal-appraisal-and-assessment.html'>iqoncept / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

A Great Measuring Stick

It IS our personal approach that creates the climate in the classroom.  Do we provide a welcoming presence.  Are we pleasant and approachable?  Can students trust our moods?  Or are we the grinch that only smiles twice a year.  We honestly do have the power to make a student’s life joyous or miserable.  We teachers have had teachers too.  We all can remember a teacher who was a tool of torture.  We’ve all had a teacher who honestly was an instrument of inspiration.

A word of caution here:  A teacher cannot truly be an instrument of inspiration if they are a tool of torture to only one or two students.  Students are always watching.  I believe they judge teachers on the way they treat the most challenging child in the class.

I’ve been sitting in high school teacher cafeterias and listened to something a teacher said to a student that made me wonder who was the adult in the classroom.  Trying to “one up” a student who has just made an inappropriate comment in class is a losing proposition for any teacher.  Professionalism goes out the window.  Sometimes it is tough to listen, absorb, and under-react but retaliating an inappropriate comment with a sarcastic one, only escalates the negative.  It may feel like a win in the short term, but it is a long term loss.

I chose a lighthouse to illustrate this point for a reason.  Lighthouses demonstrate their real worth during inclement times.  So do teachers.  It’s easy to be a good teacher when everything is going smoothly. But great teachers reveal themselves during the tough times.

A teenager stands up and yells profanities at you in class, then stomps out slamming the door on their way out of the room.  (Yes, this has happened in my classroom).  What do you do?  The choice is yours.  Do you escalate the situation or attempt to de-escalate it?  Before you make your choice, take a deep breath and then pause.  Every student will be watching your reaction. You are the beacon in this moment.  Will you dehumanize the student?  A teen is a child with longer legs, raging hormones and often tumultuous emotions.  You are the adult.   What you do next defines you as a teacher.

TEACh

TEACH…To Change Lives

Available at Amazon.com

TEACH…To Change Lives

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Life Changers

TEACH...To Change LivesThey sneak up on you.  Life changers come from out of nowhere.  You wake up in the morning expecting a typical day, but you meet someone new, or something unexpected happens on that day, and it changes the course of your life.  Sometimes you figure it out on the very day it happens.  You say to yourself

Wow.  I’m going to remember this day forever.

But some life changers only reveal themselves over a long period of time.  It may take decades before you know the full impact they have on you.  Life changers can feel wonderful or horrible.  The things they have in common are that they are out of our control and they change us profoundly.  They are different from significant days that you plan like a wedding or a reunion. They appear suddenly and alter our lives in unexpected ways.

One of the things I love about teaching is that we get to experience so many life changers.  Sometimes it’s a person, often a student, other times it’s an event or simply a tiny moment. Sometimes we teachers become the life changers and we may even be unaware of it. But in this wonderful profession life changers are possible every single day.

My life changerOne of My Life Changers

This is my youngest daughter, Kelsey Easley. Her life was a life changer for me. This story isn’t mostly about Kelsey but it begins with her.  When Kelsey was born I had already been a teacher for fifteen years. I believe I was a good teacher, creative and hard-working.  But watching my daughter’s life and her experiences changed my teaching profoundly.

Kelsey was diagnosed with brain cancer at age five. She battled cancer off and on for eleven years until the disease took her life at age sixteen.  When Kelsey had to receive radiation to her brain at age five, it saved her life but it also changed her life.  Radiation kills healthy cells as well as cancer cells.  As a result Kelsey’s intelligence plummeted.  She went from being the top reader in her kindergarten class, to the lowest reader by the end of the first grade with the same peers.  Now she didn’t just have a deadly disease to battle, she also was forced to enter the population we politely label special needs.

That experience put me (Kelsey’s mom) on the other side of the IEP conference table…the side of the table where no parent ever chooses to be. I learned a lot of lessons on the parent side of the table, most of them painful.  I saw teachers and specialists in a whole new and often unflattering way.  Too often I saw condescension or inflexibility. It changed me.

I also learned how naturally accepting and inclusive young children are.  They’ll love you bald.  It makes no difference.  But acceptance changes at about junior high age.  What Kelsey needed the most in junior high and high school were friends and there were very few. I watched her hurt and no one deserved it less.

How This Changed Me

life changers

It would be impossible to describe all the ways parenting Kelsey changed me; but for right now I’ll share one story.  When I began teaching a Teacher Academy program at the high school level, I decided to begin a Friendship Club between my class full of academically talented future teachers and the students with special needs in our high school.  Kelsey had taught me that friends were what the special population needed most.  Instinct and my own experiences taught me that my future teachers would learn even more. My students knew all about Kelsey.  She had passed away by then but I shared many stories about her.

We planned monthly activities pairing our aspiring teachers and their new friends from the special education department.  The outcomes were wonderful.  True friendships emerged.  Simply a new friend to greet in the high school hallways was an improvement for the special population.  Many of our new friends wandered into our classroom routinely before school and during breaks.  My future teachers learned to plan appropriate activities that encouraged conversations and natural friendships. They also learned patience, tolerance, how to modify activities to feature all talents, a new respect for challenges our less fortunate friends encountered and a gratitude for our own gifts.

You’d think a win/win idea like this one would be greeted with positive reactions from all, but it had its challenges.  Most of the special population didn’t drive and were quite dependent on school transportation specially equipped for their needs.  This meant our functions had to happen within school hours.  Some teachers were opposed to having students miss class, though we tried mightily to schedule these events during lunch hours.  Locations were hard to schedule too.  But the challenges were worth the effort.  Relationships formed and barriers were removed.

Will You Help?

One day an unexpected email (a life changer) challenged all of us to examine just how sincere our intentions were. The email came from Steven’s mom.  Steven was one of our new friends who was almost completely nonverbal.  Steven’s mom wanted her son to have the opportunity to attend the prom. Would any of my students be willing to have Steven be part of their prom night?  I read the question from the email aloud to my future teachers and waited.  It was very quiet.  No teens made eye contact with me. Here was Kelsey’s mom standing in front of them asking an uncomfortable question.  PROM?  A pretty sacred night for a teen.

After a somewhat lengthy pause Chelsea finally spoke up.

I’ll take Steven to the prom. I didn’t have anyone special I wanted to go with, and I couldn’t rationalize spending the money, but this gives me a good reason to go.   

Her friends complimented her and told her they’d support her in her decision.

The Friendship Date

Prom night was a little more challenging than Chelsea had expected.  Steven didn’t like the noise level in the room where the dancing was taking place.  He mostly enjoyed standing at the front doors in the lobby watching the limos come and go as teens arrived.  Chelsea, on that night, didn’t realize that she was right in the middle of a life changer.  But she was.

Steven’s mom called Chelsea the next day and told Chelsea how much Steven had seemed to enjoy the evening.  A friendship grew as Chelsea began to make sporadic visits to Steven’s house to hang out.  She followed his lead into things that he enjoyed, basketball, wood working and equipment that digs.  He learned to make an attempt at saying her name.  He pronounced Chelsea’s name “Chs.”

Before long Chelsea went off to college to fulfill her dream of becoming a math teacher. But, as a true friend does, she took the time to visit Steven whenever she came home for breaks.  When Chelsea was a junior in college she walked back into my high school Teacher Academy classroom to share some news with me.  She grinned a little as she said these life changing words.

Guess what Mrs. E?  I’ve changed my college major.  I’ve decided to become a special educator.  

I, of course, was pleased but not even the tiniest bit surprised.   Today Chelsea is in her second year of serving in the classroom as an intervention specialist in a school not far from here.  It’s close enough that she can still be a friend to Steven; and that is exactly as it should be.  Steven and Chelsea were life changers for each other.  It was a particular joy for this teacher to watch this transformation take place.

I can feel Kelsey grinning down on all three of us.

Chelsea and Steven, Still Friends Today

still friends

TEACH…To Change Lives

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Teaching Strategies

Standard

teaching strategiesThe Lesson

We were going to make a memory.  I mentally pictured one of those warm and fuzzy moments between my students and me.  Planning all the little details was giving me a great deal of pleasure.  On our high school career campus where I taught at the time,  all the buildings surrounded a courtyard.  The landscaping in this opening was minimal, especially at this time of year.  It was autumn and most of the trees had shed their leaves, but one spectacular tree was left.  Its leaves shone a brilliant crimson in the sunshine.  I decided to take my class outdoors under this single beautiful tree to make the moment memorable.  I knew they would enjoy the break from our windowless classroom. this would alert them to the importance of the occasion and help cement the memory.

Why?

Something positive and significant had happened.  It was an event of great importance to me; I had just had my first article published.  Admittedly, it was published in a small local newspaper.  Technically, I hadn’t sold the article.  No money was offered or expected.  Yet still I felt high on success.  An article I had written had been published with my own byline. They even spelled my name correctly… a rare event. This had been a long-term personal goal and a sense of pride was flowing through me. I wanted to mark this milestone with my class.

the lesson

Goal setting is something I try to model for my students.  I didn’t realize until I started teaching teenagers how lucky I had been in my life.  Setting goals was something my mother taught me at home.  I was surprised and sorry to note that this skill was particularly lacking in many of my adolescent students.  How fortunate for me that my mother had taught me all the steps.  First dream. Then visualize your dream.  Begin to make it real by finding a picture of what you want and displaying it. In my mother’s home, this meant the kitchen refrigerator.  List the steps toward accomplishing this dream and take the first step.  As soon as possible, take another step.

Role models are the best teachers, I believe.  Sharing my dreams, my accomplishments, and my setbacks with my students is one of the most powerful things I bring to the classroom.  My students knew that I wanted to be a published writer.  My frequent failures and rejections I shared with them too.  How better to make them capable of facing failures in their future than to admit my own and let them watch me continue working the steps toward a dream, even after a failure?  They teased me about my dreams, but they humored me too.  Naively, I visualized how excited they were going to be for me…how this tiny but significant event in my life would motivate them to set new goals and give them the courage to dream a little larger.  I could mentally hear the song ‘I believe I can Fly’ serenading my soul.  I looked forward to the last class of the day when this tremendous bonding moment would take place.

I Had Forgotten One Thing

goal settingTeenagers sometimes use automatic weapons to burst your bubble when a pin would do the job nicely.  Oh, but it was a humbling experience.  When I told them we were holding our class outside under a beautiful tree, amazingly but immediately the complaining began…

Why do we have to go outside?

It’s freezing out here!

Where are we supposed to sit?

There’s not enough room on this bench!

I’m not sitting on the concrete!

Why are we doing this?

This is soooo dumb!

And my personal favorite….

                                              Do we get a grade for this?

Disappointed and through clenched teeth, I growled.  I mean I really growled.  (Clench your teeth and snarl when you read this).  We…are…making…a…memory!

mad teacher

Though it wasn’t audible, you could feel the expletive at the end of that sentence.  Some of the students quieted down, but several continued to grumble throughout the whole activity.  I told them the about the significance of the occasion.  I showed them my byline in the newspaper with my name on it.  They were not impressed.  I read the story aloud to them.  It was a touching story about planting tulips with my daughter and about how the reappearance of those tulips each spring signaled that she had survived another year cancer free.  They were not touched.  I talked briefly about the importance of having meaningful goals and celebrating successes when they occurred.  The exact moment I paused in my speaking someone said,

Can we go in now?

Totally deflated, I nodded.  A few of them actually sprinted for the door.  I had never before seen them run.  They sure didn’t run when they were coming to my class.  I walked back to the building slowly, feeling completely rejected.  I made a mental note never to try anything which even remotely resembled this activity ever again.  My self-esteem couldn’t survive it.  My wonderful lesson felt like it had been ground through the garbage disposal.

The Revelation

the lesson

About a year and a half later, Edie, one of my new graduates came to school to visit me.  While we were catching up I shared some of my current good news with her.  I had just received a book that contained an article I had written for A Fourth Course of Chicken Soup for the Soul.  I showed her the book autographed by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen.  She gave me the most startled look and said something quite odd as she extended her arm in my direction.

Mrs. Easley, feel my arm.

I was puzzled but I wrapped my hand around her arm as she went on…

I have goosebumps.  Can you feel them?  You’ve given me goosebumps.

Then she said something even more surprising…

“I can remember the day you took our class outside into the courtyard to read us your article that was in the newspaper.”  Her voice was full of awe as she continued.  “You told us on that day that you wanted to have a story published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.  I can’t believe you have accomplished this!  I’m so proud of you.”  She gave me a big hug and then sat down to read the story.  I watched her read as I blinked back tears.

How different were our memories of that day.  I was certain that I had reached no one.  Frankly, it was a horrible memory for me.  And yet here was proof that my message had been heard.  I have no recollection of telling my students that one of my goals was to be published in Chicken Soup for the Soul.  I’m certain I did, but only because Edie shared her memory with me. What an incredible lesson she taught me on that day.

In even our bleakest moments as teachers,

we may truly be accomplishing so much more than is apparent.

Edie taught me that. I will try and remember this forever.  Quite by accident, I learned about the positive impact I had made on an afternoon I felt was a total failure.  I had literally seen and felt the evidence.  Goosebumps are not to be taken lightly.

teacher

A Celebration!

TEACH...To Change Lives

Just this week my second book for teachers,   TEACH…To Change Lives has become available on Amazon.com.  Woo-hoo!  Purchase a copy to thank or encourage a teacher or future teacher.

It is full of classroom ideas and inspiring true stories.

Each MONDAY in August and up through September 10th, I will post an inspiring true story about teaching.  Please pass the word along to all your teacher friends.

Thank you for reading my blog!