Thursday, October 20, 2011

Teachers make a Difference

 I looked up and instantly recognized him, even though he was a foot taller and a foot broader.  You never forget people that change your life.  He stood in the door shyly until I ran up and threw my arms around him.  He smiled shyly, but I could tell he was happy I remembered him.
     Six years ago, Eric was a small, shy, hurting twelve-year-old boy who hated school, hated life, and everyone in it.  His mom and I did everything we could think of trying to help him be successful.  I wasn't sure if any of us were going to survive that year, but we did somehow.
     Today he stood in my room, looking so much the same, but totally changed.  Here on a ten-day leave after finishing bootcamp, he stood with a grace and confidence I had never seen before.  He wanted to spend one of his ten precious leave days with me to say thank you.  He told me Boot Camp was nothing compared to what he had gone through in 7th grade.  Then he told me that if it wasn't for me, he wouldn't have made it to today.  His mom came with him and as she hugged me, she said, "I know for a fact he would not have made it if it weren't for you."
     Last night I got an e-mail from a new co-worker who told me what a difference I made last year for a student.  Thanks to what she learned last year, she was able to be released from special education recently.  I was having a horrible night and sliding quickly into the pit of feeling sorry for myself and wondering why I bothered to do anything for anyone because no one even cared.  Tears forming behind my eyes, I put everyone to bed and began working on my homework.  I opened my work e-mails and felt the touch of my guardian angel showing me the way.  
     It is so easy to get caught up in our own lives and forget that we are here for one another.  We are not here for our jobs or our video games or our sports or any other things that take our attention from one another.  We are here to make a difference in one another's lives.  When I start to feel resentful of the time or energy it takes to care for people in my life, I remember these moments.  We all have them once we stop running past each other and stop to put an arm around each other and help each other.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

I Have no more to Give You

   When we are out of love and exhausted from holding ourselves together, we can't give anything to anyone else.  When we are surrounded by people who are barely able to keep themselves together, they can't help us.  We need triage.  We need our own interventions.  We need someone to build us back up so we can pay it forward.  Frustration at their lack of caring doesn't change the fact they have nothing left to give.  All we can do is love them at their worst and give everything we have to give.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Dancing Right from the Start

     September is here and the dance begins again.  We don't know each other yet, so we dance around each other, trying to decide who will lead and who will follow.  It is exhausting at first, but if we do it right, we will dance through the year in perfect sync and the year will be a joy for all of us.  If we do it right.
     The dance begins from the first moment they meet you on the first day.  First impressions are so important.  Do you smile?  Do you share your passion for what you do?  Do you welcome them?  Do you make them feel excited for a whole year with you?
     How would you feel walking into a room where no one welcomes you or seems happy you are there or starts telling you how hard it will be and how much work lies ahead?  It doesn't motivate me or make me feel excited or want to return the next day.
     When I am in a place that feels welcoming, surrounded by people that care about me, and I have fun, challenging things to look forward to, I am happy.  It is the same information, but it is a totally different feel for the students.
    Kids who are excited for the things you have planned or love you, will do anything for you, no matter how hard the task.  They are people.  People first.  Students second.  When you forget that difference, your students start treating you the same way.  They model the behavior they see.  Dress up, laugh, plan some of your favorite activities for the first days, and celebrate the first day together.  It makes all the difference later in the year.  Enjoy your dance!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Putting Trust in this Stranger

  It takes an incredible determination and perseverance to come to a country where you can't speak the language.  I can't imagine how scary it is to put your trust in strangers to guide you through everything in life.
     This week a woman brought her six-year-old daughter in to register her for 1st grade.  She didn't speak any English.  I had to tell the little girl what her mom needed to show me to register her for school, like "proof of residency."  Then the little girl explained it to her mom in Spanish.  Her mom handed her documents and the little girl asked me which ones would work.  I was in awe of her maturity and also sad for her.  It's hard to be a kid when your family needs you to be an adult.
     Another couple came in.  The gentleman spoke a little bit of English, but his wife didn't speak any.  The woman at the desk tried to explain a legal technicality to the man.  He was confused and frustrated.  I interrupted to tell him that I had been in the same situation for several years, but it had always been okay.  They just had to tell him it could happen, but it probably never would.  He looked relieved, smiled, and signed the papers.
     In education, we talk about students who speak another language as their first language.  It is usually with the words "low" or "lack" as if these kids are less than other people.  We often complain about their low test scores or low grades, their lack of motivation, their poor attitudes.  I don't see them as less than, I see them as greater than.  As an adult, I could not go to any foreign country and get a new job, find a place to live, enroll my kids in school, open a bank account, get a driver's license or any of the other things that life requires.  I was a pretty good student in school, but I know I wouldn't be able to have done much in an another country where I had to not only learn the content, but learn the content in a language I didn't understand.  I admire my students immensely.  I couldn't even come close to what they manage to do every day.  And that's before you add their responsibilities at home like translating for their family, babysitting while their parents work multiple jobs, and working to help support their families.
     It is humbling to be a person who hold so much trust in her hands.  I hope I am always worthy of their faith in my ability to help and not hurt.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Knock, Knock, New Guy

     Today I tried something new.  I spent an hour and a half with the autistic students attending summer school. It was their last day of summer school and they had earned a party for their hard work the past four weeks.  There was coloring and Wii games and flying stuffed monkeys and giant cardboard box houses and tornadoes in a bottle.  It was total chaos and total bliss.  The kids pretty much ignored me until we went to lunch.
     As I stood behind them in line, they began to realize I was there.  They started petting me and hugging me and touching my nose.  I sat by a boy who told me my name was "new guy."  When I told him my name was Tiffany, he said, "Okay, new guy."  Then he started to tell me a knock knock joke.  It made no sense, but I laughed anyway.  When the kids saw I laughed, they all started telling me knock knock jokes over the top of each other.  Then the first boy grabbed my face and turned it to look at him.  Then he told me the joke again.
     This little guy was suddenly my best friend.  He held my hand and held on to my arms the rest of lunch and recess.  We played in the wood chips and made paths, giant dragonflies, and letters.  It was a great day for new guy and her new friend.
     Being around kids who were so full of life, without the socialization most kids have, was refreshing.  Every emotion was felt honestly and fully.  They picked flowers that were off limits because they were so beautiful.  They ran with their faces smiling up at the sun.  They debated the way dragonflies talk, and they played together because they both wore green.  They welcomed me with hugs and kisses and held my hand the entire time.  In my world, it's rare to be loved so openly, and I fell in love with them just as fast.
     Today, these cute kids taught me how to embrace life, to live honestly, and to live in the moment.  That hour and a half gave me balance, love, and lots of joy.

Friday, June 3, 2011

My "Cheesy" Influence

     During a class break yesterday, one of my students handed me an envelope and candy bar.  He smiled and said, "Sorry if it's a little cheesy - my sister helped me with the words."  I smiled and told him I would love it.
     I didn't get a chance to read his note until last night when the last day of school chaos was over.  As I started to cry, I wished I had been able to read it right then so he could see how much his words affected me.  This is his letter - with spelling and grammar intact from his original.  His "cheesy" words say it better than I ever could.   

Dear Mrs. Cooke,
     I have loved being in your class so much.  It has been such a great school year being in your class.  I have been so influenced on how nice you have been.  You have been such a great influence on what I have thought about what I want to do with my life.  After hearing your decision on almost quiting teaching.  I am really glad you did not quite teaching.  I have loved seeing, & hearing you teach.  After this year I have been wanting to go into education.  Thank's for being such a great teacher.  Sorry if this was a little cheesy.  

     We make a difference like this every day.  We just don't always get to hear it.  Today I want to celebrate teachers for the difference they make to kids every day.    

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Popsicles and the Art of Forgiveness

     I learned two lessons this week.  First - don't buy popsicles for 8th graders.  They make "colorful" comments that get them sent out of class for a time-out.       Second - when an 8th grade boy makes a colorful comment, forgive him and give him a second chance. 
     After I talked to him yesterday at lunch, he looked like he was going to cry. 
     Today was Memory Book Day and he shyly asked me to sign his book.  He looked down at me and said, "Ms. Cooke, I want you to know I am really sorry about yesterday."  Then he shook my hand. 
     You can't hold grudges with kids.  They are still learning - life lessons included. 
     So, today I taught the power of forgiveness.  Now summer begins with a clean slate so we can both enjoy popsicles.   

Monday, May 9, 2011

Kissing My Frogs: Teaching is my Dream Job

Kissing My Frogs: Teaching is my Dream Job: " Teaching always was, and still is, my dream job, but not for the reasons you may think. Rarely do I get home before 5. Some days I go..."

Teaching is my Dream Job

     Teaching always was, and still is, my dream job, but not for the reasons you may think.  Rarely do I get home before 5.  Some days I go from one meeting to another to my night job and see my family for a few minutes in the car on my way.  My summers are full of presentations and workshops and research and reading about teaching and planning new lessons and learning new technology.  The joy of my time off is having the time to become better for my students.  I do have a steady paycheck, but it isn't enough to support my family, so I work two other jobs, as well.  I could make enough money doing one job, but I can't give up my teaching.  It is my passion and my joy.
     Teaching is my dream job because I  make a difference every day and they make a difference in my life every day.  There is nothing like hearing that the boy you didn't know, the one who acted out in the assembly and called you a "bitch" was mad at the world and planned to kill himself when he got home.  You were the first person he told because you cared enough to ask why he was mad.  He was admitted to the hospital and I never saw him again, but he changed my life
     There is nothing like seeing a teenage boy crying because he misses his mom.  She is in prison for trying to kill him, but he loves her and misses her terribly.  He wrote a poem for her for Mother's Day.  He can't read it to her until she chooses him over the cocaine, but he wanted to share it with us because we would understand.    
    Or the girl whose mother chose her abusive white supremist boyfriend over her, even though he is in prison for murder. You will never know heartbreak until you have to tell those trusting eyes that you are not allowed to adopt her, but you would be proud to call her your daughter.
     After teaching a presentation, a woman came up and asked me if I remembered her.  She was in my class ten years ago.  She is almost done with her teaching degree because of me.  I wish I could say it was one of those earth-shattering moments instead of a throw-away question to kill the last few minutes of class when I asked her, "Where do you want to go to college?"  No one had ever asked her that before and she began to think maybe she could go to college.  Even our throw-away comments are taken and absorbed by the students no one can reach.  The ones who look like they could care less what you have to say.  They are the ones who listen the best.  Secretly hoping you will be the one to find the real person behind the facade they have mastered.
     I see kids who have given up on life - 2 suicides are too many in 20 years.  I have lost 5 students in all.  An average of one hearbreak every four years.  I have seen kids go through the worst things we have to offer them.  I have seen things through their eyes that even the strongest of us would not survive.  
    These are my students - the lost, the lonely, the fringes of society, the unwanted, the abused, the neglected, the hopeless, the fragile.  I love every single one of them.  I have never met a student that I didn't reach.  It wasn't easy, but I never wrote them off.  That is why I teach.  This is my dream job.  My students deserve nothing less.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


     One of my favorite things about my frogs is their optimism.  Some of my frogs have faced divorce, abuse, neglect, mental illness, and gangs, but they will be the first to tell you, "It's okay. Life is still good.  Things will get better soon."  Then they look at me, smile, and say, "Right?"  For all their bravado, they still want the reassurance that their hopes are valid, that life is good, things always get better, it really will be okay. 
     Frogs are going through one of the toughest times of their lives. They deserve frog kissers who are optimistic.  Frogs pick up on your moods, no matter how well you try and hide it from them.  They are self-centered, so they think your bad mood means you are mad at them.  A few weeks of bad moods translates into the idea you don't like them.  A few months mean you hate teaching.  Very few adults like to be around negative people, and it is no different for frogs.  They don't like teachers who hate frogs, eat frog legs as a delicacy, or are bully-frogs.
     My frogs and I had a class meeting last week.  I asked them what they liked about teachers and what advice they had for the teachers I would meet on Saturday.   One of the frogs quietly said, "I like teachers who are happy...ones who like us...and like being teachers."  I couldn't have said it better myself.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Inspiring Frog Kissers

     A friend of mine asked me this morning why I always volunteer to present at workshops and conferences.  After presenting five times this week on five different topics and staying up until 2 this morning to prepare for the conference today, I looked at her, rolled my eyes, and said, "I have no idea...because I'm crazy I guess."         
     Then I spent the day with teachers from all over the state.  These teachers willingly sacrificed an entire Saturday without any reward except the hope they will be better teachers on Monday.  After spending the day with them, I have a different answer for her.
     The real reason I do this is because I want to make a difference for my frogs.  I love my profession.  I love the kids.  I love the teachers I work with.  By spending the day presenting my meager knowledge of all this job entails, I hope to touch the lives of frogs all over the state.  I hope  life is easier for their teachers on Monday.  If I made a difference for one teacher or one frog today, then it was worth all the time, preparation, and late nights.  I do it because that's what frog kissers do...they inspire new frog kissers. 

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Share the Love: Books for Babies

     Renae Salisbury and Tami Ewell believe the love of reading begins at birth.  Their service project "Board Books for Babies" is in its second year.       
     Each baby gift includes a new board book and information on the benefits of reading to children.  Gifts are wrapped in cellophane and ribbons before being delivered to babies at Riverton Hospital. 
     Teachers across Canyons and Jordan School District have taken up the call and gathered 94 board books this year.  The teachers hope their gifts will give the babies a head start on reading when they start school. 
     A board book is printed on durable vinyl or cardboard so babies can chew on it without worry of swallowing bits of paper.  If you are interested in donating new books or money to purchase books, please contact or .   Share the love of reading with a new baby.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Taking Care of Frog Kissers

     It is really hard to be a frog.  Frogs are concerned about their warts and croaks and webbed feet.  Being a frog is so hard, all their attention turns inward.  They don't mean to be hurtful or unappreciative or moody; they are just in survival mode. 
     It is also really hard to be a frog kisser.  Frog kissers look past the warts and croaks and webbed feet.  They even get past the swampy smells that come with those funny frogs.  The hard part is loving the frogs even in their most unlovable moments, day after day after day.  The frogs mean well, but they don't always know how to show their appreciation - "Hey, today's lesson didn't suck too bad."  A frog kisser will smile and translate their croaks into princely speeches, even if it is through tears.
     Taking care of others well wears you down.  After you spend every ounce of energy caring for your frogs, you forget that you need to find a hidden reserve of love and care for the other frog kissers around you.  Sometimes frog kissers need to be loved in their most unlovable moments, too.  
     If you hear a frog kisser croaking, translate the croaks.  Usually you will hear, "I am so tired...I feel like I'm not making a difference...I don't feel appreciated by my frogs...I need a hug...or chocolate!!!"  Try to assume the positive - after all, they are frog kissers. 
     Croaking frogs don't listen very well, so when you see a momentarily defeated frog kisser, smile, nod and listen.  There is nothing better for the frogs than taking care of their frog kissers.