A Little Love

When I was in fourth grade at R.C. Andrews school in Floydada, Texas, I had a teacher who didn’t like me very much. From day one she scowled at me and never let up. She might also have been scowling at the other students in my class, but her disdain felt pretty personal to me.

She was the first teacher who did not praise my early attempts at writing. I cannot recall a single positive word she ever wrote on a paper I turned in, only criticisms in bright red marks across the page.


Not long enough!

Too silly!

Too serious!

You used the word love to describe your feelings for your dog and your new shoes. We only use that word for people.

Heck, I know I loved my dog, and those shoes were certainly P. F. Flyers that made me run faster and jump higher. Who wouldn’t love shoes that could do all that?

She once criticized me for using a word that she said was too big for me to understand.

Don’t use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do.

Of course I later learned that Mark Twain said that, and it makes perfect sense. But in my defense, I did understand the word: voluptuous. I used it in context, too. Perhaps that was the problem.

Floydada was, and remains, a small town. As an adult and a retired teacher I’ve speculated that perhaps this teacher held some grudge against one or both of my parents. Maybe even against my grandparents. And I received the brunt of it.

All I wanted was a little love from her, and if not love, just a little respect.

Take it away, Ms. Aretha Franklin:


Teachable Moments

Hurricane Michael wasn’t my first experience with a major storm. In the autumn of 2004, four hurricanes, beginning with Charley, and followed by Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne, impacted one part of Florida or another. I was teaching 5th graders at Croton Elementary in Melbourne that year, and it seemed that through much of August and September my students and I were either prepping for a storm or cleaning up after one.

Prepping at school meant wrapping all of our electronics, computers, monitors, and books in heavy duty garbage bags, securing the openings with duct tape, and placing them as high as possible in the classroom. Then after the storms passed we had to take everything down, remove the tape, and put things back where they belonged. Networked computers had to be put back on line, and books matched with students.

The school was fortunate, and we never had any significant damage, but every time a storm’s predicted path indicated Melbourne might be hit, the drill to prepare was carried out to a “t.”

Since some of this prep and de-prep had to take place during the school day, we made learning games out of the process. I taught math and science, so my students measured the equipment to be stored during the storm and estimated the minimum amount of bags and tape we’d need to do the job. They measured shelves and cabinets to see where the equipment could be stored best. They learned to code tags for computer equipment in order to get everything running smoothly again as quickly as possible. We did job efficiency studies afterwards to see where we expended unnecessary energy and what we should do differently if there was a next time.

We didn’t realize when we prepped for Charley that we’d be doing it again for three more storms, but the students made charts and checklists just in case, so we’d be ready to go into action if another storm hit. By Hurricane Jeanne, we were operating like a well-oiled, if slightly weary, machine.

The team prep work seemed to take some of the anxiety out of waiting for storms to hit, and the games helped minimize the learning time lost to the storms. And when we came back together after the various storms had passed, students were engaged in problem solving and trouble shooting, instead of worrying about the lack of electricity at home, at least for a portion of the day.

That was a tough year for all of us, but I have only good memories of working with that group of children. Studly and I moved to Illinois at the end of the school year, and I’ve lost touch with those students, but I hope the ones who stayed in hurricane country remember those days of prepping for the storms as good ones.

Peace, people!

My New Journal

I’ve decided I’m going to attempt to keep a journal. Every day I’ll take a few minutes to jot down my deepest thoughts and meaningful musings. And some day, as God is my witness, I’ll have a body of work to be proud of!

Oh, who am I kidding? Writing for this blog is the closest I’ve ever come to keeping a journal, and it’s hardly noteworthy. However, I found a notebook at Target a couple of days ago and had to have it. It almost makes me want to begin journaling.

Intriguing cover, am I right? But open to the first page and you get this:

Every page has either an actual incorrect, yet amusing answer to a test question,

Or a cute doodle.

It’s so much fun to turn the pages that I can see myself scribbling my thoughts down, expounding on the ideas or enlarging the doodles. Or not.

This notebook does make me wish I’d compiled all of the inventive and unusual answers my students used on tests through the years, though. As I recall there were some doozies, but I can’t remember a single one. I reckon that’s why I should have kept a journal. Can I get an amen?

One of my favorites:

And this one:

We lived in North Dakota, and raised two children there. I sure hope this kid got credit for his answer.

Okay, I have things to accomplish today. Thanks for joining me in this nonsense.

Peace, people.

The Greatest Speeches Never Heard

Martin Luther King

Winston Churchill

John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Abraham Lincoln

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

These great men were known for their dynamic oratory. Their words were used to rouse their countrymen to fight or to urge them to find peace. There’s no doubt they each had a speechwriter, or even a team thereof, to help craft their words, but in the end their ability to inspire change came in equal parts from the written words and in their respective abilities to deliver them with the appropriate gravitas, fervor, and sincerity.

I would humbly submit to you that some of the world’s greatest speeches, though, have been delivered by me. My audience generally was sparse. Occasionally Natasha, the cat of my teenaged years, sat listening attentively to my various soliloquies. More often than not I implored or entertained, sometimes even thrilled, an audience made up of stuffed animals and Barbie dolls. They never exactly applauded my efforts, but I could see the approval gleaming in their eyes.

And my repertoire was immense. One day I’d speak on the importance of the civil rights movement, begging my audience to remember that we are all equal in the sight of God. Another day I’d offer the most heartfelt Oscar acceptance speech ever heard, sometimes bringing myself to tears. The orchestra never played me off stage.

Saving endangered species from extinction and conserving resources were hot topics. I educated my audiences on the importance of family planning, so concerned was I with the dangers of overpopulation. Everything was important. No subject was off limits.

There were very few times in my young life that I actually gave a speech in front of real people, and sadly, my oratory abilities didn’t carry over from my bedroom to the auditorium. In front of real live people I lost my nerve and generally spoke dispassionately and sometimes nonsensically.

As a candidate for our junior high student council I gave a lackluster speech whilst clinging desperately to the podium on the auditorium stage. I believe I barely spoke above a whisper as I promised to address the dress code if elected. Needless to say, I didn’t win. An eighth grade teacher did tell me I looked very professional in my white dress. “Not many people can wear that color,” she said. Heh.

I wanted to tell her, “Lady, I’ve got a lot of admirers.” They just happened to be stuffed or plastic.

As a teacher I guess I did finally get my live audiences. Occasionally those sweet elementary or middle school students seemed mesmerized by my impassioned lesson delivery. Or maybe they just needed to hear, “Yes, you will be tested over this!”

Peace, people.

Support Oklahoma Teachers


Teachers all over the U.S. are taking a stand for their profession. Just this week teachers in West Virginia successfully held out for a 5% wage increase, and Oklahoma teachers are poised to follow their example.

I’ve attached a link from Beth Wallis, an educator in Oklahoma who has written one of the best pieces I’ve read explaining the necessity of teachers advocating strongly for higher wages, for the good of their students, teachers, and the very communities in which they live.

I taught. Every word Ms. Wallis writes rings so true it makes my heart ache. I’m rooting for her and for her fellow educators. I hope you will, too.

Images from Pinterest:


The Assignment

Once upon a time I was a teacher. I wasn’t a great teacher, nor was I an awful one. I loved being with young people all day long, but I am a woman of little patience, and that is not a good thing when working with active children.

While I taught students in grades three through seven at various times in my career, by far my favorite years were those I spent teaching English to middle schoolers. I know what you’re thinking, “How’d someone with Leslie’s blatant disregard for the rules of grammar ever teach English?”

Shucks, y’all. I had a teaching manual. Duh. Seriously, though, before I began blogging I was much more cognizant of, and adherent to, those pesky rules. Now it’s “Rules, Shmules” most days. But this post really isn’t about me. Gasp!

One of the first assignments I gave as a seventh grade English teacher was for students to write about something important that had happened in their lives. It could be something funny or frightening, happy, or sad. I’m not even sure I placed a word count requirement on this paper, I just wanted to get to know the students better and to get a feel for their individual writing abilities.

I was shocked and pleased that those seventh graders went immediately to work, and after I’d read their rough drafts I knew that the students who wanted to share their stories with their classmates should have the opportunity to do so. Much of what they’d handed in was so honest that it had to be worth more than just a grade.

After making some editing and proofreading suggestions on each of the ninety or so papers (I taught four sections of English), I handed back the papers and told my students how proud I was to have them in my class, and that once they’d written their final copy I’d open up the floor for anyone who chose to share.

Now seventh graders are an interesting lot. I figured I’d have perhaps twenty percent of each class volunteer to read their papers. Instead, every single student shared their stories. And what an experience that became! I’m sure we spent way too much time on this activity, but my students and I bonded over these stories.

One athletic young man had us all in stitches as he told of the time he and his buddies got into his older sister’s closet and put on various pieces of her clothing, including tutus and swimsuits. and wore them to dinner, much to the horror of his sister and the amusement of his parents.

A shy young woman told of being chased by a vicious dog while riding her bike and being rescued by another dog at the last minute! By the end of the story her classmates were on the edges of their seats, cheering her on.

The story I remember having the most impact, though, was the story a quiet young man told about his mother’s illness. He and his father and sister were at the hospital visiting his mom who had been diagnosed with cancer. As the boy walked down the hospital hallway, he turned to his sister and asked, “Is Mom going to die?”

His sister became angry and told him that he just killed their mom because it’s bad luck to mention dying in the hospital. Their mother did die later that week, and the child blamed himself. The class sat silently when he finished, many were in tears. I was in tears, and I’d read the story.

The love that then surrounded that young man was amazing. Other students made a point to tell him he wasn’t to blame for his mom’s death. He knew that deep down, but hearing those words from his peers seemed to turn a light on in this child. I watched him blossom that year.

When we finished sharing, more than one child thanked me for allowing them to write about themselves. While I’d just been trying to help myself get a feel for their abilities, I got a good deal more. Extras like that are what make the profession unlike any other.

Peace, people.

Bathroom Rescue

Written in response to the Daily Post’s Daily Prompt:

Naked with Black Socks 
Are you comfortable in front of people, or does the idea of public speaking make you want to hide in the bathroom? Why?

There once was a time when I spoke in front of groups on a regular basis. I don’t count my years as a teacher because there doesn’t seem to be the same performance anxiety when one speaks to children as when one addresses one’s peers. In fact some of the most poised classroom teachers I’ve ever known would rather be burned at the stake than speak formally in front of their colleagues.

For several years I worked as a trainer/consultant for a non-profit educational foundation. In this role I observed teachers teaching all across the country and then presented new and hopefully helpful information in a culminating workshop.

There were days when I owned the crowd. Words flowed from my tongue like sweet tea from a pitcher, and particpants were clamoring for me to audition as a stand up comedian.

Then there were days when my words stuck to the roof of my mouth like peanut butter, and I could barely coax a smile from the attendees. On those days I’d have gladly hidden in the bathroom. In fact, once I did!

I was at one of the schools I served in Albequerque, New Mexico. The week had gone really well, and teachers were excited about gains their students had made in their comprehension of mathematical concepts. I was super pumped about the workshop and comfortable with the material I’d be presenting. 

Then, about thirty minutes before the workshop began the new principal of the school pulled me aside.

“Listen,” he said. “I don’t like this program and if I have anything to say about it this will be the last year we pay for your company’s services.

“By the way. I’ll be sitting in today.”

Then he walked away. I’d only met the man briefly, so I knew it wasn’t personal, but my heart sure took a hit all the same.

When the workshop started the principal was sitting, front and center with crossed arms and a scowl. I opened with an ice breaker and about two minutes in he held up a hand.

“Enough time wasted. Get on with it.”

The teachers were shocked. A couple that I’d gotten to know well looked like they might cry. I was trying to hold myself together and wondering how to begin the program without the segue provided by the ice breaker. 

I gave him my brightest smile as I switched to another set of materials, but my flow was gone. I found myself robotically reading cue cards that I hadn’t needed in months. 

All of a sudden I had a brilliant idea. I stopped, looked around and said, “You know, I’m afraid we’ve gotten off to a shaky start. I’m going to the powder room and when I return you’d better fasten your seat belts!”

I was shaking like a leaf when I hit the ladies’ room door. But I looked at myself in the mirror and sternly said, “That asshole thinks he can intimidate me?? No way!”

I hit the ground running. The notes went into my briefcase and I asked the teachers, “Who has a math success they want to share?” You see, I knew they had many.

Hands went up. Stories were told. We laughed and applauded. Then I said, “Let’s make more of these little miracles.”

Soon I had the group participating in the activities their students would be doing in the classroom. The principal sat there glumly, but he didn’t interrupt again. 

I left the foundation at the end of that school year, so I don’t know if that Albequerque school continued their partnership with them. But I did learn that sometimes hiding in the bathroom is the right thing to do.

Peace, people!

And Just What Do YOU Do?

I saw this meme on Facebook today and had to giggle. For one thing, it’s the kind of offhand remark I’m inclined to make and then get embarrassed by. Often my mouth and my brain operate from completely different game plans.

But this meme also reminded me of a time during Parent/Teacher conferences back when I was teaching seventh grade. We taught in teams of four teachers: math, social studies, science, and English. And when conference time rolled around we met with parents as a team. 

I greatly enjoyed this team concept approach because we learned much more about our students and their parents than we might have otherwise. Sometimes we might have learned a bit too much.

We were chatting with one parent and one of my co-teachers kept saying, “I feel like I should know you. You look so familiar.”

Finally the parent said, “You must recognize me from work.”

“I’m sure that’s it,” replied the teacher. “Where do you work?”

“At the XXX Toy Box on Elm,” said the parent.

My good Christian co-worker went bright red and completely silent. We never let her live that down.

Peace, people!

Back to School

For many of my friends tomorrow marks the day parents long for, children dread, and teachers anticipate with a mixture of nervousness and excitement: The First Day of School.

Having taught I still have nightmares of the first day back. In these I’m usually standing in the middle of my beautifully decorated classroom trying to control 27 kids with hand gestures and fervent pleas to sit down while they run about in fevered chaos destroying all of my hard work.

The first day, so critical to the rest of the year, always left me flummoxed. When I taught elementary school, the first day was usually over by noon and still I struggled to find ways to fill those four hours. 

We practiced all of our procedures (how to line up to leave the room, how to request permission to use the restroom or the pencil sharpener, the proper heading for student class work, etc.). We got to know one another. We wrote our names in our textbooks and completed information cards. All that took roughly one hour, or one and a half if I spoke s-l-o-w-l-y.

I was much more suited to the middle school model. On that first day kids came in, we set our expectations, did a quick name game, and boom! It was time for the next class. I repeated that scenario three or four more times and day one was over.

Teaching tested my sanity, and I’m certain no one really misses my presence in the classroom, but I know some terrific educators at all levels. Some are starting at new schools this year, others are trying on new grade levels, while others are quite happy to be in the same school and grade they’ve been in for many years.

To each and every person who works with children, thank you and best of luck. Have a great school year.


Where was Pinterest when I was teaching?

Peace, people! 

Math Humor for the Good of Humanity

 Well, that might be overstating my point, but 
I taught math to sixth graders. Trust me when I say it helps to foster a sense of humor.

And sometimes a joke will spark an understanding, an aha! moment,

not to mention a shared experience. Never underestimate the power of shared laughter as a teaching tool,

because some students latch on to the offbeat as a way to store information that otherwise would pass right over their heads.


%d bloggers like this: