Three Thoughts for Thursday

Walking under a harvest moon, why I'm a nervous Nellie, and the breakthrough toddler toy of the century in this week's 3 thoughts.

  1. When your day begins with a sunrise walk under a harvest moon so bright it makes a dusty gravel road into a shimmering silver pathway, you know it will be a very good day indeed.
  2. For the next two Saturdays I’ll be teaching teachers. Teachers who know their stuff. And their stuff is teaching. I am extremely nervous. Prayers appreciated!
  3. My grandson has spent many hours during the past week trying to place clothespins on the rim of a cardboard box. I’ve spent many hours during the past week trying to come up with a way to disguise clothespins and cardboard boxes, market them as the breakthrough toddler toy of the century, and get them on the shelves before Christmas. Can you guess which one of us has been more successful?

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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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Ten Lessons Taught by My High School Drama Coach

Drama coachTwo days ago, a dear high school friend sent a Facebook private message. “I ran across this tonight,” the message said.

“This” was an obituary for Roger Hallum, our high school speech and drama coach. According to the obituary Mr. Hallum–who will always be Mr. Hallum and never Roger to me–died on July 1, 2009.

He’s been gone five years and we, the students he touched in profound ways, never knew. We never had a chance to say thank you. We never had a chance to tell him how he shaped and bolstered the confidence of a bunch of squirrely teens as he tapped into our talents.

So five years late, this top ten list says thank you for the lessons he taught so well more than 4 decades ago.

10.  Never judge a book by its cover. None of us believed a dumpy man who wore his sandy hair shaggy and unkempt, whose teeth that never saw braces, and who wore saggy plaid suit jackets and polyester pants could motivate high schoolers to spend months of each year rehearsing and performing in plays and speech contests.

9.  When your director says, “Jump,” you say, “How high?”

8.  Good writing isn’t enough to make a good speech. Neither is good delivery. But good writing + good delivery = magic.

7.  Never, ever start smoking. Because trying to quit is hell and requires copious amounts of Live Savers candies.

6.  Teenagers, given a vision of what they can do if they work far harder than they believe they can and tasked with far more responsibility than school administrators believe is wise, can accomplish tasks beyond what most adults think they can do.

5.  Timing is everything.

4.  An army jeep, a goat, and 30 tie-dyed bedsheets sewn into kimonos, make for an exciting, unexpected, and visually pleasing rendition of Tea House of the August Moon.

3.  Character parts are much more fun to play than romantic leads.

2.  A pregnant pause speaks louder than words.

1. One unassuming person…one dumpy, shaggy-haired man with crooked teeth, saggy plaid suit jackets and polyester trousers…who says “You can do this because you have talent,” can change the course of an insecure teenager’s life.

In memory of Mr. Roger Hallum, Feb. 8, 1939–July 1, 2009. Your former students are still jumping, higher than they ever thought they could.

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!

Three My-Favorite-Season-Is-Spring Thoughts for Thursday

For the past week, the weather has been perfect along our gravel road. The daisies, phlox, and peonies are blooming, the trees are in full leaf, and the grass in the ditches is a rich, luxurious green. Maybe that’s why these three thoughts for Thursday are mostly about my favorite season – spring.

  1. Mom had her springtime doctor’s appointment in Des Moines the same day Mitt Romney spoke a few blocks away. What a relief to not see the fella and tell him in person that I can’t be his running mate in the fall. I’m not sure he would understand that being a first time grandma leaves no time for politics.
  2. Apparently, there’s a blue jay convention in our town this week. They are everywhere. Talk about noisy, uncouth, overbearing tourists!
  3. My teacher friends are trying to motivate kids to learn their multiplication facts, study the three branches of government, and conjugate Spanish verbs on this beautiful spring day. The thought makes me want to bake cookies for them.

Who would you bake cookies for on this fine spring day? Leave a comment.

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.

Once, We Taught in Camelot

Last night, I went to Camelot, and so did many of my teacher friends. Now, we didn’t think we were going to Camelot. We thought we were going to a retirement party for a fellow teacher who devoted over thirty years of his life to the children in our community. But as we honored him and told stories about the practical jokes he played on staff members, of his sense of humor with students and the high expectations he had for them, one thing became clear. Those of us who taught together at Bryant School for ten or fifteen magical years, starting in the mid 1980s, worked in Camelot.

Now, don’t get the wrong idea. Things weren’t perfect back then – not the administration, the faculty, the staff, the kids or the parents. We didn’t always agree with one another. We didn’t always like our job assignments. And we certainly didn’t realize what a great and wonderful gift we’d been given.

What we had was this: a faculty and staff who had high standards for students, put the needs of kids first, showed respect to the people in the building, and knew how to have fun. At least once a week someone brought goodies to the teacher’s lounge, and we exchanged recipes with abandon. At lunchtime that lounge, all five by ten feet of it, was the place to be. Sometimes, we vented and ranted about work, and sometimes we cried about life’s heartbreaks. But usually we talked and laughed so hard our sides ached.

Through it all, because of it all, we bonded in a sweet and unique way I’ve never experienced in any other work environment. Best of all, the camaraderie among us helped our students. Each afternoon, we went back to our classrooms smiling, able to give our students the positive encouragement they needed to succeed.

Like all good things, our Camelot came to an end as people retired and grade levels were moved to different locations because of building projects and new schools. Our beloved Bryant School will close at the end of this year. The classrooms and the tiny teacher’s lounge will be empty.

But the bonds forged there remain strong. Once in awhile, we have a Bryant reunion. Or a teacher retires and we gather to celebrate. We hug, we cry, we laugh, we smile. We realize, as we did last night,  that “once once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.”

As we go our separate ways, I whisper a prayer that somehow in some other workplace, that spirit is growing again. I hope that a new generation will one day also be able to say what we say each time we gather.

Once, we worked in Camelot.