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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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What Teaching Teaches the Teacher

The Dixie Diarist

Teacher, Writer, and Artist

I'm a special education teacher who thinks kids are the most important people on Earth, and that teachers and headmasters and principals and assistant principals -- as sneaky as they are -- are pretty darn important to the educational process, too.

I became a teacher when I was old enough to have legitimate ear hair concerns, backed up with a whole lot of life and work experience. And the classroom gave me a whole lot more -- ear hair included. Special education is all I've ever taught. I began as a wide-eyed substitute teacher and ended up as a full-timer with wide eyes. (I purchased my ear hair shaver at Walmart. Extra batteries, too.)

What do you learn coming out of an experience like that? Well, let me tell you what I learned . . .

1. Being a parent doesn't make you a better teacher. Being a teacher makes you a better parent.

2. Those savant students who know as much as you do about the subject you teach sure do keep you sharp.

3. I found out pretty quickly that, even though I tried, you can’t fix a kid's learning, behavior or emotional disorders right there in third period while you're talking about the Battle of Gettysburg. I got some good advice about that from Lurlene the principal one time when she said, "Fix the behavior; not the kid. You don't have time to do any real fixing," she said. "That's the job of their therapist -- if their parents care enough to get them one."

4. The five most powerful words you can say to a student, a struggling student or otherwise, are, "I am proud of you." When you say this a lot, and always at the right times, students will improve in their academic skills, and sometimes even their emotional and behavioral disorders seem to lighten. At the same time, as a teacher, your silent mantra should be, "Don't give up. I'm proud of me, too."

5. The moment when their eyes light up and they say, "This is great stuff!" and they mean it -- that's it. That's why you teach.

6. You're willing to spend your own money, too. You love to go to The School Box, even online. You love the way the place looks and smells. It's like a toy store for teachers. You feel creative and engaging and dedicated the moment you walk in. The teacher's section at Dollar Tree ain't bad, either. I learned early that kids will kill for stickers. Not other kids. You. They will rush your desk like the Pamplona running of the bulls for a sticker that says they did a good job.

7. The class periods -- and the full days and weeks and months and semesters -- when their eyes don't light up and they never say, "This is great stuff!" makes you wonder why you teach. Lurlene gave me some good advice on that, too. She said, "Don't take it personally."

8. The very best teacher advice I ever heard from Lurlene was advice she freely handed out to needy parents and students, too. She would listen very carefully to their drama, without interrupting, and then she’d say, "Get over yourself." To a mom, dad and student, after they got over themselves, they always ended up thanking Lurlene for the good advice and tough love.

9. There are very few teachers and parents who are confident enough in themselves to give out tough love. The ones who are confident enough give themselves tough love, too. That's how they back it up.

10. The time spent driving home from school was long enough to go over the day, every day, and figure what I could have done better, where I truly screwed up, and sometimes where I did a good job. It was also the best time to grieve, and even weep, for what I saw and experienced that day. I never wore sunglasses while driving until I became a teacher.

What about you? What's teaching taught you?

Comments (11)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

The Dixie Diarist's picture
The Dixie Diarist
Teacher, Writer, and Artist


Well done ... well done! Thank you for sharing the link to the video and for your remarkable words and observations. I have to admit ... I got a little misty-eyed! I'd be honored to buy your book!

Teach on!

The Dixie Diarist

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Community Manager at Edutopia

Dixie Diarist, I love your contributions to Edutopia and love this post. Thank you for being part of our community!

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Community Manager at Edutopia

Wow, Marjan, that's an amazing video. I'm with Dixie Diarist--it made get all misty eyed too. Thank you for sharing it with us.

The Dixie Diarist's picture
The Dixie Diarist
Teacher, Writer, and Artist

Thanks, Samer! I've been doing a lot of subbing at a new school lately and an awkward problem has come about. The students say they like me a whole lot better than the regular teacher. Uh, oh.

Well, one thing I've learned ... that bribing goofy 8th graders with candy ... really does work!

Teach on, brother!

The Dixie Diarist

Whitlow Stanley's picture
Whitlow Stanley
Special education major @ Prairie View A&M University

Dixie Diarist, I am a pre-service teacher from Prairie View A&M University, and I would like to say thank you for sharing this post. Your post has inspired me to continue pursing my career as a special teacher.

The Dixie Diarist's picture
The Dixie Diarist
Teacher, Writer, and Artist


When your studies are over, you'll embark on noble and important work. The sounds and sites and kids and people ahead are going to change your life and mind for the better.

When you tell someone you're a teacher ... they are always impressed. Always. But there are good teachers ... great teachers ... and real masters. Be a master teacher!

Thanks for commenting ... and all the best to you!


Aeden Miller's picture

Thank you for posting this. It was very inspiring to read and I share many of the same beliefs as you. I love the fact that you enjoy when students say "This is great stuff". I agree that teaching is great when students come to see an understanding and enjoyment of the material being taught!

The Dixie Diarist's picture
The Dixie Diarist
Teacher, Writer, and Artist


You're welcome ... and I'm so glad you enjoyed the list ... and live it and think it, too! Teach on! Never give up!


Mrs. Sawyers's picture
Mrs. Sawyers
High School Special Education Teacher and Department Chair

Thank you for this post! Your comments hit home with me and even made me chuckle. Lurlene's comments are so true and needed in our schools! After 13 +/- (I am starting to lose count) years, I still wouldn't change my career. Eventually I hope to move into the college world to help bring the best of real world experience to the fresh student teachers of the world. Thanks for being "real."


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