A Fantastic Friday Salute to Teachers

A new school year is about to begin. Here are 10 ways to show kindness to the teachers who will be part of our kids' lives for the next 9 months.The teacher in our town went back to work this past Monday. So this Fantastic Friday features ten reasons to be kind to educators in the next few weeks and months.

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!

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Is It Time to Up our Homeowner Insurance?

The other day, II had lunch with a friend who’s a junior in high school. On the way to our favorite Chinese restaurant, we drove by the former site of Bryant Elementary School. It used to look like this:Bryant school

Now it looks like this:Bryant Lot

We both commented about how weird it was for the building where we had many good memories (I used to teach there) obliterated.

The conversation made me think of what’s happened to the other workplaces in my past. Sky Ranch for Boys, where Hiram and I worked from the late 70s through the early 80s closed a few years back. Several of those buildings have been bought and moved to different locations–a rather disconcerting thought.

One of the tan and brown buildings where I taught in Camp Crook from 1980–1985 has been replaced with a new grey building. Which needed to be done, But if they chose to replace only one building, couldn’t they have chosen the one I taught in for the least number of years?Camp Crook School

Also, my Grace Community Church Director of Discipleship and Assimilation digs–back in the days when the church rented downtown office space in the basement of the Livery–is now the kitchen of The Good News Room Coffee Shop. The owners have done a bang-up job with the space and decor, but it’s strange to order a cup of coffee and think, “Hmmm, right there where the sink is? That’s where my desk used to be.

Good News Coffee Shop Kitchen

All these changes take some getting used to, but I’m adjusting. Except for one thing. Considering the track record of my former workplaces and the fact that these days I work from home, do you think it would be wise for us to up our homeowner’s insurance?

house

 

 

Teacher Magic

Teacher magic

Last Thursday I went back to school for the first time in a long time. A former teaching colleague had asked me to represent the world of professional writing at the local high school’s career fair and then speak to some English classes after that. Due to a scheduling snafu that can be blamed on my calenderally-challenged brain, I arrived an hour and a half late for the two hour career fair.

That’s a story for another post–except for one thing.

Flustered by my late arrival, I totally forgot Thursday was the last day of school before spring break and a short day at that, due to parent-teacher conferences. If that realization had dawned earlier, maybe I wouldn’t have been so discouraged by the lack of response from the first two groups of students. To say they weren’t impressed by the life of a writer would be an understatement. They were a hard crowd, and I flopped. Miserably. During the passing time before the last class arrived, I finally remembered. The kids are just marking time until spring break.

So when the class settled in, I asked, “How many of you are counting the minutes until spring break?”

Every hand went up.

“Well,” I leaned toward them with a conspiratorial whisper, “If you’ll just pretend you’re interested in what I say, I’ll let you in on a little secret.”

They leaned toward me.

“Every teacher in this building is counting the minutes, too.”

They laughed.

I glanced at the clock on the wall. “Do you know exactly when in the sweep of the second hand, the dismissal bell will ring?”

They nodded.

“Would somebody in the back of the room wave one minute before it rings, so I can finish and you can get out of here right away?”

Everyone in the back row gave a thumbs up…and we were off.
They asked questions, one after another.
Good questions.
Perceptive questions.
They laughed at my jokes.
They cracked a few jokes, too.
They talked about their writing likes and dislikes.
Their eyes sparkled.
Their faces glowed.
The magic was so strong,
we were all surprised when the dismissal bell rang.
Most students headed straight for the door.
But several stopped to say thank you.

I left the building with tired feet, a renewed appreciation for teachers, and a memory of why teaching had been my chosen profession for 25 years. It feels good to connect with students again, to hear them share their ideas, to see their potential, and to urge them to follow their dreams and use their imaginations.

When a teacher gets her mojo back, she can work magic in young lives.

photo credit: www.freedigitalphotos.net

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?

 

Hopeful Enough to Drive By

Scuttlebutt around town is this. The workplace that was my home away from home for eighteen years, the school where my second family worked for nine months of every year, has been demolished. We all knew Bryant School’s demolition was going to happen. In fact, before the building closed in May of 2010, I went back to say good-bye, took pictures, even blogged about it.

I’ve been avoiding that part of town, ever since the building went down.
One thought of the empty block where Bryant School stood,
one mind picture of the ground leveled and grass growing over the foundation,
and I start crying.
Silly, I know.
But having a significant piece of the past erased (and a piece of my kid’s pasts, too, since they went to school there) is harder than I expected.

But this week, some breaking local news made me willing to confront the present instead of mourning the past. On the first attempt, our town passed a bond issue for a new high school. Pretty amazing since the community has a thirty year history of repeatedly voting down school bond issues, eventually settling on compromise solutions that are than second best.

But not this week.

The bond issue passed with 79% voting in favor of it. When the news came, I thought of something my son said when he was in high school. “Mom, why would I ever choose to live in this town as an adult when the people don’t care enough about kids to build decent schools?” I had no answer, only sadness for the message the voting public repeatedly sent to young people in our town. Today, on the other hand, I am proud of my town for passing this bond issue in the midst of economic hard times.

The bond issue news has me feeling hopeful again.
Hopeful enough to face the ghost of Bryant School.
Hopeful enough to dream about our children’s futures.
Hopeful enough, I think, to visit the place where my home away from home once was.
Hopeful enough to laugh through the tears when I drive on by.

Gut Reaction – Recycled

The kids around here went back to school on Monday. The teachers officially started work the middle of last week, but most of them have been preparing their rooms and doing some work from home since August began. Last year, I wrote this post about my annual August gut reaction. This summer, the yearly tummy twist has me thinking about how to encourage the teachers in our town. They are ever and always my heroes!

Gut Reaction – Recycled

Ever since 1961, when I set foot in Franklin School as a kindergarten, the same its-almost-time-for-school-to-start-pit-in-the-stomach-reaction occurs at summer’s end.

It doesn’t matter that I graduated from high school in 1974 and college in 1978. It doesn’t matter that I’ve been out of teaching since 2003. It doesn’t matter that my kids’ public school days are a thing of the past. One rustle of the calendar page turning from July to August, one glance at the back-to-school ads in the paper, and my stomach ties up in knots. I can take deep cleansing breathes, engage in positive self-talk, and count my blessings until the cows come home, and my gut still feels queasy.

I tell myself it’s a conditioned response. You know, my personal version of Pavlov’s dogs. Only instead of salivating at the thought of food, my intestines go all grumbly at the thought of entering a classroom. Why is that? I loved reading and learning as a kid. As an adult, I loved teaching and developing relationships with students.

I attribute my annual August gut reaction to one thing. Teaching is hard work physically, emotionally, and mentally. It’s harder than any job I ever did. Detassling corn, working in the Hy-Vee Deli, washing dishes and cooking at a nursing home, being a nurse’s aid at the same home. All of those were child’s play compared to teaching. The same can be said of my present career which involves writing books and speaking to large groups of people.

Here’s why. Every day teachers must be organizational whizzes, entertainers, mind readers, communicators, multi-taskers, disciplinarians, record keepers, clock-watchers, counselors, comforters, problem-solvers, and tough guys in the classroom. But that’s only half the job. The other half involves trying to keep up with the legislative requirements that change and grow more demanding every year.

So say a prayer for teachers this month. Then put your prayers into action by doing something special to. Bake cookies. Send an encouraging email or card. Take them supper. Mow their lawn. Pick a bouquet of flowers. Say thank you.

This August, do something to untwist their tummies.
They’ll be glad you did.

Masters of Encouragement

A few weeks ago, on one of this summer’s blistering hot July days, three former colleagues and I spent the afternoon together. Vicky, Pat, and Pauline are still teaching, though I jumped ship in May of 2003. We loved teaching fourth grade together, collaborating and sharing ideas freely.  But we shared more than work. We shared life, trading recipes, advice about raising teenagers, and how to care for aging parents.

After too many years apart, we gathered in Pauline’s cool and comfy living room and picked up our conversation without missing a beat. We talked about what our kids are doing, and their life journeys so far. We shared disappointments and unexpected joys, sorrows and hopes, our dreams for the future and our fears. Most of all, we encouraged one another, just like we used to do after hard days at work.

Believe me, these women are about the most encouraging people around. Or course, encouragement is second nature to people who teach fourth graders their multiplication facts, persuade unwilling students to write cursive, and can make the geography of the United States interesting. Vicky, Pat, and Pauline – they are masters of the craft.

After a few hours with them, all of us crying a little and laughing a lot, I knew what I miss most about teaching.
Not the paperwork.
Not the politics.
Not the paycheck.
Not even the students so much.
What I miss most are these three, strong women who encouraged me to take a risk and pursue my dream of becoming a writer. And, I envy the students, the parents, and the faculty who will rub elbows with them when school starts in a few weeks.

Do they have any idea of the treasures these women are?

Saved by the Bell

Last night I dreamed I was teaching again. At the school I last worked in – the fact that it closed last spring having no bearing on my subconscious mind – pulled into the classroom on an emergency basis.

But the emergency continued, and there I was week after week. The kids were second graders. Very energetic. Confused by my teaching style. Not motivated to rise to my expectations. Cuter than all get out, but noisy too.

I was unprepared. No relationship with the students and thus no control over their behavior. No ingredients for the recipe that was doubling as a science experiment. No lesson plans. No idea of the curriculum. To make it, I would have to devote all my evenings, weekends and energy to planning.

All I could think was, “When will I write my book?” and “How did this happen?” and “Teaching is the hardest work on earth.”

Then the alarm clock beeped, and I was saved by the bell.

But the memory of the dream – perhaps “nightmare” is more accurate – still lingers. And my thoughts fly to the teachers I know. They do the hardest work on earth every day, willingly, lovingly, creatively, and with great passion. They shape the future.

Thank you, teacher friends. You are my heros!

Gut Reaction

Ever since 1961, when I set foot in Franklin School as a kindergarten, the same its-almost-time-for-school-to-start-pit-in-the-stomach-reaction occurs at summer’s end.

It doesn’t matter that I graduated from high school in 1974 and college in 1978. It doesn’t matter that I’ve been out of teaching since 2003. It doesn’t matter that my kids’ public school days are a thing of the past. One rustle of the calendar page turning from July to August, one glance at the back-to-school ads in the paper, and my stomach ties up in knots. I can take deep cleansing breathes, engage in positive self-talk, and count my blessings until the cows come home, and my gut still feels queasy.

I tell myself it’s a conditioned response. You know, my personal version of Pavlov’s dogs. Only instead of salivating at the thought of food, my intestines go all grumbly at the thought of entering a classroom. Why is that? I loved reading and learning as a kid. As an adult, I loved teaching and developing relationships with students.

I attribute my annual August gut reaction to one thing. Teaching is hard work physically, emotionally, and mentally. It’s harder than any job I ever did. Detassling corn, working in the Hy-Vee Deli, washing dishes and cooking at a nursing home, being a nurse’s aid at the same home. All of those were child’s play compared to teaching. The same can be said of my present career which involves writing books and speaking to large groups of people.

Here’s why. Every day teachers must be organizational whizzes, entertainers, mind readers, communicators, multi-taskers, disciplinarians, record keepers, clock-watchers, counselors, comforters, problem-solvers, and tough guys in the classroom. But that’s only half the job. The other half involves trying to keep up with the legislative requirements that change and grow more demanding every year.

So say a prayer for teachers this month. Then put your prayers into action by doing something special to. Bake cookies. Send an encouraging email or card. Take them supper. Mow their lawn. Pick a bouquet of flowers. Say thank you.

This August, do something to untwist their tummies.
They’ll be glad you did.

These Lovely Students: Time Capsule, 2010

Yesterday, one of the sweetest days of spring unfolded. Perfect weather. Crab apple trees in blooms. Tulips swaying in the breeze and lilacs bursting into bloom, their scent wafting through the air like honey.

But best of all was the hour I spent with the high school students who were once my fourth grade students and their parents. We met at Bryant School, where we learned together for nine months some years ago. They were taller than when we said goodbye on a warm June day in 2002. I had more wrinkles.

But yesterday I managed to hold back the tears, just barely, that flowed freely when our little fourth grade family broke up housekeeping way back then. I was determined not to cry because I wanted to be clear-eyed enough to see the people they’d become and to search their faces for traces of the nine and ten-year-olds they used to be.

So while they looked at old pictures and watched videos of their social studies presentations and how-to demonstrations, I watched them. And what did I find behind bravado they’ve cultivated to survive high school or hard times?

Tucked behind their smiles were Alex D’s quiet kindness and Josh’s  soft humor. Maddie’s sparkling excitement about life and Hannah’s joyful optimism were written in their eyes. II saw Chuck’s gentleness and Heather’s compassion in the set of their shoulders. Brogan’s determination hid behind his grin, and Alex B’s gaze was as intense as it was the day we first met. Nikki’s shyness was barely visible beneath her confident voice, but it peeked out now and then. Jordan thoughtful nature waited behind her laughter, and Stephanie L was still a natural observer, noticing things in pictures the rest of us missed. Dillan’s childhood inquisitiveness was evident in his career choice, while Erin’s love of words marked her conversation.

They are still there, the children I had loved so much and carried in my heart since we lived fourth grade together so many years ago. My prayer for each of them, the ones present and the ones who didn’t come, as they enter adulthood is simple.

Hold the sweet child you once were close to your heart. Remember who you were and where you’ve been. Build upon the best of your past to create a firm foundation for your future. Rejoice daily. Give thanks hourly. Savour the moment.

Live well, lovely students. Live.