Tag Archives: teaching

It Made A Difference For That One

If you’re like me, you love the beach.

Quite of few of us really love the beach and can’t get enough.

Maybe it’s the waves crashing over and over. Or maybe it’s the endless view across the big blue.

We get a chance to walk as far as we would like and see the footsteps we leave when we eventually turn around and head back. We get to sit and get lost in thought. Or we walk head down and look for shells that catch our attention.

I have a few of those shells in my classroom. For students who have never ventured to the shore, they’re something of an oddity — especially the one conch shell I’ve found in its entirety.

Watching my students turn those shells over in their hands, I sometimes wonder if I make a difference in their life.

Do you wonder the same?

Oceans and whether students leave my classroom better than when they arrive reminds me of this often repeated short story below.

If you haven’t heard of the little star that made it back into the ocean, I’m happy to be able to share it with you.

If you’ve heard it more than once, I hope it’s a great reminder that you are indeed making a difference.

One student at time.

Please don’t stop trying. You are making a difference for each student lucky enough to be sitting in your classroom.


While walking along a beach, an elderly gentleman saw someone in the distance leaning down, picking something up and throwing it into the ocean.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, picking up starfish one by one and tossing each one gently back into the water.

He came closer still and called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”

The old man smiled, and said, “I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?”

To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the elderly observer commented, “But, young man, do you not realise that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

The young man listened politely. Then he bent down, picked up another starfish, threw it into the back into the ocean past the breaking waves and said, “It made a difference for that one.”

Adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley

Thanksgiving Appreciation for Teachers

Thank you for who you are as a person. Thank you for your unending efforts to impart upon others the need to succeed. Thank you for feeling miserable when your students didn’t do well on that last test – it’s because you want them to succeed. Thank you for your care when others might not. Thank you for learning new approaches when old ones aren’t effective. Thank you for taking the time to listen to a student’s story when time is tight and your lesson demands you move forward. Thank you for deciding years ago that teaching is a noble profession and that you wanted to be a part of it. Thank you for recognizing that some students just need more encouragement. Thank you for recognizing that what was once new is now old, but someone will think it’s new again… and you will be tasked with revamping your teaching style yet again…. thank you for recognizing that you do indeed know what’s best for your students. Thank you for showing up when you didn’t feel well, but knew that your students wouldn’t get anywhere near the same experience if you weren’t there. Thank you for giving up your lunch that day to counsel in between bites of your sandwich that you never finished. Thank you for organizing your room before your students ever arrived, before your professional development began, before your first meeting that first week of school. Thank you for going to that meeting even though you really just wanted to be in your room grading papers. Thank you for making students laugh, even when you weren’t laughing inside. Thank you for arriving early and staying late because you wanted to do it the right way. Thank you for creating a better lesson even though you already had one written down and ready to go. Thank you for recognizing the student having a bad day and saying a kind word. Thank you for pushing students when they don’t think they can be successful. Thank you for taking the time to go back and fix that grade because you don’t feel like you covered the material well enough. Thank you for asking your students the type of questions that make them pause. Thank you for not being ok with mediocracy. Thank you for showing up in the morning and recognizing that today might just be the day that you finally get through to that student who just never seems interested. Thank you for wanting to impact your students in a way that makes a real difference. Thank you for all you do. Thank you for being an awesome teacher.

Finland Is Making Me Mad, Again

For teachers the summer is a time to take a break and recharge. Many resent us. Many though, are happy when their kids return to us.

I’ve always relished the time and spend the weeks off catching up on household responsibilities. My yard and projects around the house require my attention — something I don’t actually mind as it’s a welcome change of pace.

All of which means I try not to get too involved in what my profession is currently in the midst of — education policy, changes in state standards, the newest and greatest approach to teaching.

I know that this is ignorant. Perhaps poor form of me. I just need some time to be with my family and be able to plan some adventures together.

And then there’s Finland.

I’ve never been. Although it does sound intriguing. It’s beautiful from the pictures I’ve seen.

However its beauty is not what makes me mad.

It’s this constant comparison of their education program versus ours.

I remember “U.S. versus…” conversations in my teacher certification courses almost 15 years ago. The luster of how we stack up against other countries around the world seemingly hadn’t, and still hasn’t, worn off.

Here’s the latest that appeared on my Facebook feed just today. Produced / directed by a fellow who likes to push some buttons. He’s not a favorite of mine, I admit, but I watched it anyway because it’s summertime. And I have some time. And I feel like I need to think about education. And it’s about Finland again.

Do you see what I mean?

I want more time for my students to play.

I like the idea of students being more engaged in their own learning.

I like the idea of teachers being less stressed.

I don’t like state assessment testing either.

What is it with the U.S.?

And just when I’m annoyed enough to wallow in how we’ve got it all wrong, because well, it looks like the United States is yet again behind other nations (#29 the video notes) I happen to look down and see Finnish viewers’ comments.

Viewers noted that the video had it wrong. Homework was indeed a thing that had to be done in Finland. Others mentioned how inaccurate the video is in its entirety.

Hmmmm… more to the story? Yet I clearly remember that this issue must have been a common theme, even 15 years ago.

From my journalism courses in college, I know it’s difficult to present an impartial article — and that’s if one strives to do so. Additionally, there’s only so much space on paper, only so many words allowed by editors in charge of editorial space.

Here are some other Finnish school bits and perspectives I came across.

Global grade: How do U.S. students compare?

So what’s my verdict on whether we really are that far behind our Finnish colleagues?

It is interesting to read about the number of Fulbright applicants interested in Finland seeking solutions to our nation’s educational woes. Seeing how U.S. students compare to Finland’s in various aspects is revealing. Knowing that the Finnish system was once equal to the U.S. yet made a concerted effort to improve forty some years ago is encouraging.

If the comparison was easy to make, we would have surely implemented changes and determined what we “should” be doing in the United States.

There are just too many variables in play.

Regardless though, there’s a lot we should be doing different. A solution to what we’re doing in the classroom needs to be sought out and implemented.

Why a solution?

I believe logic demands that we acknowledge that students being tested at the young age of eight and endure considerable stress learning strategies to “beat the test” seems downright counterintuitive.

How will a child love learning if they’re worried more about getting the answers right than trying out different solutions based on what they already know?

Isn’t it ok to be wrong and not endure a poor grade because a risk was taken?

Isn’t education’s intent to teach students to understand how each learns differently than their peers? To encourage them to solve problems collaboratively? To understand how to both lead and follow?

Isn’t it obvious that sitting all day without end is painful to us all – regardless of age?

Shouldn’t we worry about students enjoying their education? Be interested in their happiness? Seek a happy life?

So solutions are in order.

I challenge you to share your thoughts in the comments answering: How do you think we stack up against Finland?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Required Summer To-Do List for Teachers

What? Another list of requirements before you head out the door and escape into Summer?

Well no. This one is intended to save you from making the kind of mistakes that will result in your being diagnosed as unfit to teach in the Fall.

So, in the spirit of Summer and recognizing that teachers everywhere are counting down the days that remain alongside the children they teach – here is the required Summer To-Do List.

  1. Spend time with family. It’s their turn. They have watched you grade papers while you tried your best to watch your favorite tv show, and failed. They have tried to pull you away from worrying about students who weren’t as worried as you were.They have been patient about you not always being there when you should’ve been. They have wondered why you get home so late when school was over hours ago. It’s their turn now… go spend time with family.

  2. Go to the restroom at will. You do not need to get a child, sibling, partner or spouse to watch the living room and any antics that might occur within that space. It’s ok to finally take your time. Just go to the restroom. NOTE: chain around the above facility used only for training purposes to begin in late August.

  3. Do NOT go to Pinterest in search of new ideas until #8 is adhered to. It’s quite enticing to see what better ideas are out there. And they’re out there – you’re smart and you’ll find them. If you go to this space where perfection is shown to any well meaning searcher, you will already feel stressed about what you think you need to do in September — and that’s just plain silly. It’s vacation time, remember?

  4. Don’t worry about having to tell another human being when they can go to the restroom. If you have children at home you might need to require them to make a visit, but otherwise there’s little need to now determine if the little ones really need to go. Also, if you’re shopping and see a little person with a worried-I’m-going-to-pee-in-my-pants look, you do not need to get involved. Allow it to play out without your expert opinion. Grab a coffee and sit down if you must, and watch from afar. You can worry about this issue again in September.

  5. Don’t go to work early, don’t stay after work till it’s late. Don’t go in at all. It’s ok. If you’re like me and are a career switcher, having off for many weeks really is unusual. Relax. If you find it difficult to relax, you need to get in your car and take a trip to a relaxing spot and require yourself to stay there until you admit to yourself that you’re relaxed. This might take some time, I know, just leave a I’m-safe-and-relaxing not for your family. Your children in the Fall will be better that you’ll return refreshed.

  6. Get away, take some time away. Go on a trip. Plan to visit a place you wouldn’t normally. Go on an adventure. You earned the time to explore. Since last Summer you’ve been required to be in that room, at that time, for those hours, and unable to leave regardless of bladder issues, or the insanity that awaits you in the morning. Go far, see what you haven’t yet seen, and maybe take a picture or two to share with your class when you return.

  7. You may now schedule any and all medical appointments. You can do so without feeling guilty that you’re away from your students. It’s time to take care of yourself. You should have done so throughout the year, but you didn’t. Please only do so after reading the next to-do, if at all possible. NOTE: Are those medical instruments making you squeamish too?

  8. Do not, under any circumstances, think about school for at least two weeks after leaving the premises. You’ve no doubt packed up, followed all those many protocols in leaving your room in good order, and maybe even stacked the chairs and desks. There’s nothing there for you now, so allow the building staff to do their business while you stay away. Heck, the air conditioning probably isn’t even on except for the office area. Imagine working in that heat during this weather? Don’t think about it, don’t go back!

  9. When it gets close to the end of July, you may begin thinking about school. What you might want to do differently next academic year may surface in your head, and thinking about it is ok. However, do not spend excessive time on this. There will be more than enough time for this in August. Set your clock and spend no more than 15 minutes per day on any school related site. If you break this rule, you must spend an exponential amount of time at either a) the pool, b) sandy beach, or c) in front of the tv watching your favorite reruns. No cheating please.

  10.  Laugh. Laugh often. Laugh when people are watching and when you’re alone. Each year there are plenty of things that keep us from being joyful. Find the laughter within and around you.

Have a great Summer my fellow teachers. You’ve earned it.

LeVon Young Answers 10 Teacher Questions

Levon Young

For some time now I’ve been passing LeVon’s classroom on my way up the hall. I remember meeting him the first time in a staff development meeting where he launched himself up upon a desk – he’s quite the athlete. Ever since, we’ve spent time occasionally sharing experiences about being male in an elementary school. Here are my 10 questions that he’s been kind enough to answer. I hope by sharing these with you, it offers another insight into what it means to teach today.


1. Why did you become a teacher?

My mom taught in Chesterfield County for thirty-one years as a Special Education teacher; so I have been around it my whole life.  My undergraduate degree is in Computer Science.  But, the Spring Break of my first senior year at JMU, I went on an alternative Spring Break in Camden, New Jersey with the fellowship that I was involved in.  We had the chance to work with inner city kids.  It was a pretty life changing experience seeing how much they appreciated what we were doing, and the connections that we were able to make in just a short time. I contrasted what I had spent my undergrad doing in Computer Science, and thought about the difference and relationships that I had watched my mom make in addition to my experience on the trip.  The choice seemed like an easy one.

2. What has been your biggest challenge?

My biggest challenge has always been my first 3 years teaching in Henrico.  I felt like I was taken through the fire in my experience there.  Most everything in comparison to that seems much easier.

3. What do you think makes you successful?

In relation to question number 2, I would say faith in Christ that gave me a hope that never waivers, my mom’s encouragement during that time, and a supportive staff, mentor, and administration that bonded because of the pressures of the environment.

4. How do you start your first day, first week of school?

If we are talking about my first day of teaching, it was a hectic one. My classroom was under construction (they were taking a big class and splitting it into two, and I wasn’t truly allowed to move in until the Friday and Saturday before school began.  Figuring out how to structure the classroom, implement the lessons in a timely manner, and control “everything” that goes on in a classroom that college could never prepare you for has always been a live and learn type process.

5. Do you have any daily norms?

Plenty outside of school.  But inside the realms of the school building, one of the things that I have grown to treasure is greeting students in the hallway while on hall duty in the mornings.  I love being able to watch former students grow, meet others, and being able to just be goofy and encourage them in the morning as they are walking by.

6. How do you motivate?

This can be a tough one given the age of the students and the rigors of the SOLs.  Adult-hood is so far away from the 1st graders that I teach.  My motivation for doing this is based on how having a solid education will help them out later in their lives.  That is a difficult argument to push to a 6 year old that is only looking forward to lunch and recess.  But ultimately I try to scale it back and express that what they are learning now is a foundation for them to be able to move into 2nd grade.  Whether they enjoy school or not, they are ALL excited about moving on to the next grade and getting older with more responsibility.  Understanding a little of what it takes to be in a place that some of the older students that they look up to are in often times motivates them to push a little harder.

7. Favorite subject / topic?

Hands down, Reading.  I love teaching the fundamentals of reading and waiting for that “lights on” clicking moment for them.  Reading can take you anywhere that you want to go in this life.  It can help you in Science, Social Studies, Music, Art, PE, and even Math.  Once they figure out what their interests are, all they have to do is pick up a book and dive in.  Non-Fiction boring?  No problem! Pick up a fictional book and get lost for hours in another world.  I love reading!!  I also love the moment my students go from, “I can’t read” to not wanting to stop.

8. How do you teach challenging students?

Cliche aside… I think the most important thing with challenging students is to somehow make a connection with them.  This is not always the easiest of tasks… and sometimes it doesn’t happen.  But if you can make a connection with them, they begin not wanting to let you down.

9. Best memory teaching?

Every year around May when the picture begins to come clear about how much growth everyone has made from September.

10. What do you think most people don’t know about the teaching profession?

The sheer hours that are put in, even if you are not spending them in the actual school building.


I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on LeVon’s experiences and thoughts on teaching. Please leave a comment on my site to encourage others to do the same – thank you!

We’re Not Making Widgets: Teaching Is Tough

Rubber Ducky

They arrive at 9 a.m. and leave six and a half hours later. Instruction, conversation, art, worksheets, questions, quizzes, homework, assignment pads, tests… what did we accomplish?

Sometimes we teachers drive home at night thinking… “great day! Yes.”

Then there are those other days.

Every new teacher is certainly told about those every experienced teacher has had. There are days when it seems no matter what was attempted, the end of the day brought frustration. All the planning and forethought… all the enlightenment we hoped they’d experienced… all the effort — to no avail. Those are the days we go “well that didn’t work… now what?”

But as a career switcher, I know from first hand experience that other professions have their ups and downs too. No matter what the workplace may look like, sometimes one’s drive home is happy… sometimes depressing. I think it’s fair to say that the difficult days make teachers say… “why do this?”

So I had a student teacher a few years ago now. She did a great job. Finished up her undergraduate experience in my class. What an ending it was for her. Watching from my desk and sitting on my hands, as they say, trying not to interrupt…

I realized all over again – teaching is tough. Why are we expected to do so many things well?

We plan outside of work hours. We grade then too. Teachers are asked to become experts in areas that they teach. In elementary school that’s defined as language arts, science, social studies, and mathematics. If every student doesn’t understand the concept, we’re asked to remediate until they do — regardless if the student even wants to understand. We need to both understand and identify learning disabilities. We are asked to differentiate instruction depending on an individual’s strengths. And of course we need to be sure that everything that occurs in class ties to district goals. And there’s lots more… but there’s one important lesson worth noting more than others.

You know… they don’t teach you how to motivate in teacher preparation courses.

They do mention that how your students do on the state assessments is how you’re evaluated.

Where teacher programs fail is that those assessments don’t have a check off box for that child to check off.

There’s no “I didn’t give it my all” or “I really don’t like math so I don’t care about my score” or “there are so many crazy things going on at home, I really couldn’t concentrate on school”.

Yes I know. Construction is tough. Accounting is tough. Firefighting is tough. Nursing is certainly tough too. I suppose everyone will argue that they’ve decided on a difficult profession.

But I’m molding human beings here. I’m not selling widgets. Determining success can’t always be quantitative. Saving lives as a doctor or rescue worker certainly is important work — rewarding too I’m sure. But for close to a year I not only meet the expectations set forth by the state, I try to also meet those of my parents, colleagues, administrators and… my students. It can be quite the tricky balancing act.

And there is no better feeling than when students return after continuing on to the next grade and they tell you how the zany things you did in class actually made a difference. How my origami lesson that frustrated them so much really showed them importance of details and perseverance. Or how a difficult subject was made easier because of something I said or did.

I don’t think a state assessment score really equates that I’ve been a successful teacher. Sure, seeing those pass advanced scores in print feels good. But after over a decade of doing this teaching thing, I think that’s just the beginning. What about the rest of the student?

Have I successfully encouraged them to go beyond what they thought possible?

Teaching is like overseeing 24 little nations (the current number in my class). Sometimes they get along, sometimes they argue and want nothing to do with one another. Sometimes they just want to be acknowledged. And each day is different.

I hope that when students leave my class after a year. They will remember me as someone who cared enough to be honest. Who was able to challenge them and they in turn met the challenge. Most of all, I hope I taught them that success is not determined by the degree of genius within. It is in fact determined by persistence and a desire to accomplish what they desire.

I call it a life lesson. Something that I think we definitely ought to be teaching. Can we please assess that too? Now how do they put that on a multiple choice form?