Tag Archives: overcoming student struggles

The Journey of Paul’s Boots

This is a story about Paul Evans as I learned from an article I came across in Backpacker Magazine and a USA Today article. After doing some more Google searching, I came across a film. His life and the life of his boots moved me to share them with my Scouts at our last Court of Honor a few weeks ago.

Perhaps Paul’s story will be worthy enough for you to share with your students. My Christmas wish is for you to read my short introduction, and watch the film below. I hope it moves you too.

Paul Evans, an Australian from Queensland, had always been an avid hiker. Every chance he had he had found him hiking along the trails near his home.

Later in life he moved back home to care for his ailing parents which occurred about ten years ago.

It was then that he met and married his wife M’Lynn who he had met online in a discussion group for caregivers. Together they took hikes around Australia whenever they were able to get away.

Sadly his Mom passed in 2010 of Parkinson’s and his father in 2011 of Alzheimer’s.

And then his health also began to fail.

During what became an ever worsening health condition, Paul had the dream of hiking the Appalachian Trail. In fact he did the research, bought all the gear and finally told his wife he was ready; setting three pairs of his size 13 boots next to the door.

Then, not much later in July of 2015, he had a heart attack at the age of 53.

He did not survive.

After donating most of his gear, his wife wondered if a part of him could still go on the AT. She put out a request on blogs and a favorite hiking podcast, Dirtbag Diaries.

She got over 400 responses.

And this is how Paul’s boots began their journey from Georgia to Maine, handed off from hiker to hiker. Each volunteer chosen agreed to complete a leg of the AT carrying them 2,189 miles through fourteen states and six national parks.

Some of those 40 people hiked along quietly, while others had conversations with Paul – a man they had never met, but whose four pound boots they were now willing to carry to help fulfill a dream.

It is now that Alex “Daddy Long Legs” Newlon enters this story.

An epileptic who was told he would never thru hike the AT, he was now four months into completing the goal, and now at New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

He was close to quitting.

He had been carrying those heavy leather boots strapped to his pack.

And during his moment of exasperation and doubt, Paul’s boots untied and whacked Newlon’s left elbow.

“I look up and there’s a deer standing in the middle of the trail staring at me,” Newlon remembers. “It was as if Paul was trying to tell me to pay more attention to my surroundings because, lost in my head and caught up in my own doubts and fears, I was missing the beauty of the world around me.”

Here’s the film that captures the trip that Paul’s boots took.

Seen well over eight hundred thousand times, there must be something about carrying someone’s else’s dreams upon one’s shoulders that sounds appealing.

Take a look and listen to some of those that self labeled themselves as Paul’s Protectors.


So the question that I asked myself when I read about the story of these boots, I now ask you.

How often do we miss the beauty that surrounds us? Are we taking the opportunity to do the type of things that Paul never could?

I am hopeful our Scouts see a world they may not have noticed before when each month we leave our church, and seek out a new adventure.

When we hit the trail or set up camp in the woods I hear the laughter of friends, the crackling of the warm fire, and the sizzle of a meal being made in a dutch oven.

It’s a time to spend some sweat equity arriving at one’s destination and in the process learn a little about ourselves in the process.

Hearing the birds begin their day shortly before the sun rises or the quiet of the woods around us has a way of adjusting our default setting back to reflection of what we do and contemplating why we do it.

This holiday season, I challenge you to take a day, or maybe more or even just a few hours, and spend time outside seeing the world our God has created.

Take a hike, a walk or a bike ride with those you love.

Let it be time away from the holiday rush and efforts to do it all.

Let it be a time in which we spend with our families seeing the world around us, perhaps differently than we have before.

Merry Christmas to each of you.

I hope you will do more than read these words and take up my challenge – doing something Paul’s boots were able to accomplish, but Paul never could.

Overcoming Teacher Frustration

If you don’t get frustrated, then you don’t care.

I keep saying it like a mantra, it makes me feel a little better.

It’s the first week of December and I’m frustrated.

As the holiday music blares from the car radio and we feel compelled to sing about the wonderful time of the year, we’re also now into the not-so-wonderful part of the school year.

Assessment time. The first quarter has passed and people want numbers that will indicate our success at the front of the room.

In my county, we use benchmarks created by someone I don’t know in a far away office. This person has created a series of questions that will determine whether my students have grasped what I have taught them these last few months.

All of this is really important to some really important people I suppose.

Of course you could just ask me and I could tell you who has grasped the learning – no lengthy, confusing test is needed I assure you. I’ve been at the front of my classroom, after all, since early September.

Regardless, computer schedules have been determined, class schedules have been rearranged, and then the hold-our-breath begins as the scores roll in.

It’s then that percentages appear, heads are scratched, eyes are rubbed, and groans are heard throughout the building.

Each of us then finds our colleagues we trust enough with which to have a candid conversation. We lament, we commiserate, we voice our displeasure, we let our colleagues know how our students could have done so much better.

We carry on the way we do, because, well, we care about our students’ success.

Even if those computers keep shutting down and booting off our students. Even if my third graders, who have enough of a hard time concentrating, now have to sign in to their assigned Chromebook like it’s Fort Knox. Even if they can’t remember where their pencil just dove off to when they turned their head.

These same 8 year olds have to remember multiple procedures to begin an assessment that often aren’t even developmentally appropriate.

I care about my class’s scores, I care about my team’s scores, and I care about how our school is doing. The problem is that I only have control over one of those populations.

Well, control is a relative concept.

I’ve done my best to motivate my students.

I’ve logically explained why strategies work. I’ve highlighted to my students the future and why doing one’s best is in their best interest.

I’ve even talked about real estate values once or twice and how they’re tied to a school’s scores – I know, I know, that was probably over their head, but I couldn’t help myself.

I repeatedly tell my students, because again I can’t help myself, that each of them has the ability to overcome any challenge. I share that I care about them as soon as they were put on my class role. I tell them that I believe in them.

So what to do when you’ve taught all the right strategies that worked in the past, yet the students fail to do as you’ve asked?

What to do when students rush even after you’ve told them to double check – at least a hundred or two times?

Where to turn when it seems that all that time sharing life lessons seems to have fallen on deaf ears?

Here are some solutions worth considering.

1) Beat your head into your classroom wall until the result is that you’ve passed out and awaken later to only vaguely determine the square footage of the ceiling tiles – holding true to your desire to bring creative approaches to teaching state standards. Arise and continue.

2) Go home and refuse to return until all assessments have been cancelled for the foreseeable future. Wait for all computers to be adequately equipped to work properly when called upon. This waiting will of course continue into the very foreseeable future and your students will progress into the next grade without your influence.

3) Climb onto the roof of your building and take it upon yourself to strengthen the bandwidth of your building’s internet signal by erecting the largest set of rabbit ears conceivable. You will of course be labeled a hero (like Don Quixote attacking the windmill) although the monstrous antenna will certainly not be seen as an architectural adornment.

4) Lastly, and I think the most prudent solution is this: hold fast to who you are and your care for your students.

Certainly not all will take to our instruction regardless of our desire for our students’ best efforts.

Our students may not yet understand that we care for them as individuals. Our students may not yet trust that what we teach and desire for them to do is in their best efforts.

Hold fast to your efforts to continue down the path that you know will lead to success.

Let’s not let an assessment that unnerves students of all ages to change the course that we know will be effective.

Teaching is not easy. Teaching is not selling widgets. Teaching is a craft that takes more than a quarter of a year.

Learning is determined by untold variables and cannot be assessed by one benchmark alone.

Hold fast my colleagues. I will do the same.

You Are Not Alone


A few weeks ago we heard some very sad news about a student at my son’s high school who had taken her life. It reminded me that the students we teach endure so much more than we realize.

That Monday I night I shared the following with Scouts.

Please feel free to use any of these thoughts if you think they would be useful in sharing with students that they are not alone as they progress through the trying school years.

You are not alone.

My freshman year in high school was not an easy one.

Ask my mom and she’ll tell you about countless mornings in which I cried as I got onto the bus. I expect that I was a handful just getting ready to get onto that bus.

The world of high school wasn’t just different than middle school – it reminded me that school was a mental game.

What was the point after all?

Constant early mornings, constant homework assignments, teachers I had to pay attention to, a lack of friends, no end in sight, on the bus, off the bus, waiting for the bus.

One week just led into another week of the same.

I spent weekdays looking forward to weekends. I spent holidays happy that I wasn’t in school.

Looking back I was unhappy, probably because I thought I was the only one down about the world around me.

You are not alone.

Perhaps you feel the way I did. Perhaps you feel all alone.

Maybe you aren’t connecting with those around you?

Perhaps you feel like an island far from everyone else. Maybe you feel like no one can relate to your problems.

For me it was not knowing what was ahead in a matter of just a few short years.

I thought that the life of high school was how it would always be. I thought the lack of friends would mean I would always be lacking friends. I felt that school would always feel the same way – unbearable and endless.

You are not alone.

Parents: Your parents have loved you since your first day in this life. They held you when you had yet to learn to walk, you were carried by them as you held on tight to their neck.

Relatives: Your relatives celebrated your birth. They know stories about you from when you had your first birthday party to your first steps to your first day in kindergarten.

Family Friends: Your parents’ long time friends have watched you grow up and have been hoping for you.

Siblings: If you have brothers or sisters, they would be lost without you. You might bicker and argue. You might wonder how in the world they are related to you. Remember though that they will be your brother or sister far into a future you can’t imagine.

Teachers: Your teachers are committed to your learning. They became teachers thinking about teaching students just like you. They also decided to teach students your age and sought a degree in which they could do exactly what you see everyday. Some of them good – no doubt, some of them not so good – that’s a reality too. Regardless though, you are their student.

Scouters: The adults in this room have committed to help you realize your goals. Each has a lifetime of stories that might surprise you in convincing you that we have been exactly where you are now.

Friends: Your friends need you like you need them. When your thoughts try to convince you that you’re alone, your friends are the ones who will remind you that we each struggle and celebrate the same things in this life.

You are not alone.

Your God has been standing alongside you.

Have you placed your faith in that fact?

Have you gone to that quiet place, wherever that might be, and really thought about this one?

If we say a Scout is reverent, then if you haven’t already, it’s time for you to acknowledge that there there is something far greater than you and me. That God stands alongside you. He holds you up when you need support and comfort.

You are not alone.

So often we think no one will understand and I’m here tonight to remind you that there are so many of us available and willing to remind you that when you think the challenges in your life are overwhelming, you are not alone.

The Ah Hah Moment: A Blessing and A Curse

Patience at the River

If students don’t get it immediately, they struggle.

And it’s exactly the same for me too. How about you?

I hate feeling inadequate. I dread not understanding the point when others around me nod in agreement to the person presenting.

A couple of years ago I sat in a math seminar next to my colleague who was responsible for teaching the advanced math students. I sat there dumfounded trying to complete the problem given to us. She sat back having already accomplished the task while I sat forward trying to just understand what was being asked of me.

That was not a good feeling.

As teachers we value the process of imparting knowledge.

We love posing a question, getting the class enthralled, seeing them engaged, and observing them overcome whatever challenges we’ve placed before them. Mission accomplished. Objective realized. Time to move to the next lesson or revel in the fact that we’ve earned today’s paycheck.

As students they just want it to be over.

They heard the lesson being introduced, perhaps vaguely, and they heard when the lesson was over. They either got it or didn’t. This either worried them or it didn’t.

Next up? They just want that quiz, a test and move on to the next thing. Or perhaps instead escape the classroom and wish it all away.

Sometimes they worry if they did ok. Sometimes not. And sometimes they will stare at the clock wondering when all of it will be over with.

This is of course difficult for us teachers to accept.

It is that time of year in which students dreaming the day away has become unnerving. Time is running out and the state assessments are coming.

Principals are stressed. County specialists are adamant that we review everything we have taught since the first day of school. Both are not helpful to my health nor to that of my students. We know those tests are coming. And if you’ve been doing this a while, we know what we have to do.

Today I gave yet another online assessment in hopes of preparing my students to take their online state assessment. They didn’t do well.

I didn’t take it well.

So I remembered the Ah Hah Moment Lesson I shared earlier in the year.

The Ah Hah Moment comes to each of us differently – yet it will come and we just need to be patient with ourselves.

Some students, just like us adults, will understand the lesson taught us the first time. This is of course unlikely for us as much as it is for our students.

That’s why I reiterate to them again that all of them have the Ah Hah Moment of Learning. Sometimes I ask them to share with us when the lightbulb has lit inside their skull. That’s when I proclaim the amount of time that has passed since the lesson began and I reiterate… the Ah Hah did indeed come.

Perhaps it will take another ten minutes or an hour. Perhaps it will take another day.

Or perhaps, and this does not gel well with instruction specialists, the Ah Hah Moment will occur next year – well past the assessment that they’ll take in a just a couple of months.

This doesn’t reassure me or my administrators, but it’s just how humans are made.

We are different after all.

And our Ah Hah Moment just isn’t going to be dictated by a clock or calendar.

We just need to be patient and believe that it will happen.