Winners, Every One

Winners, Every One

everybody wins

The armchair Olympics are in full swing on our little gravel road. We’ve been twirling in the air, slicing down the ski slopes, gliding across the ice, and sliding along the sled runs with nary a turned ankle or bruise. We are loving it.

Except for one teensy-weensy problem.

Every time the three winners mount the podium and receive their medals, while the world is focused on their laudatory accomplishments, my thoughts wander to the athletes who didn’t win. The fourth place bobsledder who was .04 tenths of a second too slow. The skater who fell hard at the beginning of his program, then got up and smiled through the rest of the program, though he had to be in pain. The skicross racer who broke her spine. Even Bob Costa who was felled by pink eye.

Winners, every one.

This mindset could be the product of twenty-five years as an elementary teacher. Twenty-five years of watching the student who got a C on a test work much harder than the one who aced it. Twenty-five years of cheering for third graders who didn’t know their math facts in the fall, but did in the spring, though they would never be the fastest on timed tests. Twenty-five years of marveling at those rare kids who cared more about being kind to their classmates than about being first.

Winners, every one.

Every time the three medal winners in any event mount the podium, I think about the athletes who aren’t there. Those with less natural talent or came from less affluent countries, yet worked harder than whoever won. Those who grew the most. Those who cared more about being kind to other participants instead of being first.

Winners, every one.

The school teacher in me wants them all to receive medals–the Olympic equivalent of an elementary school field day participation ribbon. To be given a momento to carry home and pass on to their children and grandchildren. Or better yet, to leave the festivities with a rock solid, internal assurance of the reality that escapes those who focus only on the podium. The understanding of an undeniable truth. By making it to Sochi, they are forever and for always

Winners, every one.

Photo courtesy of Vlado at

Three Teaching Thoughts for Thursday

Three Teaching Thoughts for Thursday

Harding County Schools

  1. Tuesday I talked about writing with students in the country school where I taught 30 years ago. Their energy made me feel young, even though their teacher was a former student and one of the students was the daughter of another former student.
  2. The students were enthusiastic, respectful, creative, and eager. After I left their classroom, I stood outside the building for a little while thinking, Boy, do I miss teaching.
  3. Today I’m speaking to two classes at the school in town. I’m nervous, pretty sure I won’t capture their interest, wondering why I volunteered for this, worried the planned writing exercise is a waste of valuable classroom time, and thinking, Teaching is the hardest job in the world.

Teachers, you are heros!

Top Ten Reasons to Be Kind to Teachers Going Back to School

Top Ten Reasons to Be Kind to Teachers Going Back to School

Back to School Teachers

My teacher friends and former co-workers in our school district went back to work yesterday. Speaking from 25 years of personal experience, here are 10 reasons to be kind to teachers for the next few days and weeks.

10.  Contrary to popular opinion, most teachers didn’t sit around the pool eating bon bons all summer. Most teachers spent much of the summer going to school to hone their skills. They even turned in assignments, sat at the other end of the red pencil, and received grades.

9.   During summer school classes, teachers wore flip flops. At home they went barefoot. And now they have to shove their feet into teacher shoes. Remember those teacher shoes? Not a pretty sight.

8.   The first few days back to school, before the kids return, are packed with meetings about exciting topics such as Proper Procedures for Cleaning Up Bodily Fluids (I’m not making this up) and the latest No Child Left Behind government regulations. The powers that be grant these topics higher priority than things allowing teachers preparation time in the classroom.

7.   Teachers know those meetings will eat away their preparation time, so they’ve already donated several unpaid days to get their classrooms ready, plan lessons, and prepare materials. And because of budget cuts, they often pay for materials out of their own pockets.

6.   At some of those meetings before the kids come, teachers learn about newly assigned duties that take away their scheduled planning time and in some cases much of their lunch hour.

5.   Once the students return, teaches spend much of their lunch hour doing one of the following: running home to let the dog out, eating at their desk while preparing for afternoon classes, or supervising students.

4.   You know how hard it is for your kids to adjust to the school schedule every fall? It’s that hard for teachers, too, because they’re big kids at heart. That’s why they’re teachers.

3.  Teachers would rather help kids succeed than mark assignments with red pencil and fill out report cards. But their job description requires they do both.

2.   Teachers spend all day supervising 25–30 people who are crowded together reading and doing paperwork in a small space without privacy cubicles. Can you think of businesses that ask adults to work in conditions like that?

1.   Your child’s teacher cares about your boy or girl. A lot. Your child’s teacher cares about every student. But teachers know they can’t give students everything they need. Teachers know that no matter how hard they works, at some point they will fail students. They will obsess over every failure and try to do better the next day, knowing they will fail again. But they keeps trying because they believes kids are worth their best effort. And if you tell teachers they’re doing a good job, they’ll remember your kindness and pass it on to a child. Because that’s what teachers do.

What would you add to the list? Leave a comment!

Ten Years Ago This Week

Ten Years Ago This Week

Ten years ago this week, I began my twenty-fifth year of teaching.
My son with undiagnosed PTSD had just moved to an Orthodox monastery.
My daughter began eighth grade.
My husband worked crazy hours as an ICU nurse and loved it.
My mother lived in her own home and was a ball of fire.
Abby the dog was finally housebroken.
Our church met in the high school auditorium and had downtown offices in the basement of a renovated horse livery.
I thought my teaching career would continue another twelve years.

But I was wrong. Because God answered a prayer uttered during the return flight from a workshop conference a week or two before school started. Please God, I had whispered, if you want me to be a writer, I need a different job. A month later, I knew the 2002 – 2003 school year turned out to be my last as a teacher.

So much has changed in my life since then.
My son, after treatment for PTSD, is a husband and will soon be a father.
My daughter is a college graduate, married, and settling into a new home.
My husband works a regular schedule in a heart cath lab and loves it.
My mother lives with my brother’s family and has Alzheimer’s.
Abby the dog died after a full and pampered life.
Our church meets in a new building constructed on a former cornfield.
Two of my books have been published, and I speak around the country.
I feel ten years younger than during my teaching years, and I’m much healthier.

But many things haven’t changed. Many of my friends are still teaching. They go back to school today, facing a host of challenges and determined to make a positive difference in their students’ lives. Their students will be blessed to spend the next nine months in my friends’ classrooms.

My friends will work incredibly hard, come home tired day after day, correct papers and plan lessons late in the night, and catch every cold and flu bug that goes around. They need our prayers. And since God answers prayer, just as he did ten years ago, I’ll be praying for them. Dear God, give these teachers and dear friends strength and wisdom, enthusiasm and compassion to meet the needs of children.

Will you join me in praying that prayer?