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Spicin’ it Up: Back To School


A speaking event

I was the keynote speaker this past week for the 1200 or so teachers and staff of the Hazelwood School District here in St. Louis. I hadn’t been there for several years and had forgotten how huge it is. I also know I am getting old since the new teachers looked like they were twelve! One of my former students, Carrie Launius, who also writes for the Globe, was one who recommended me to be the presenter.

I told her I was amazed at not only how well she has done in working her way up the ranks in education, but also the fact that she is now older than I am. She didn’t care for that much. Of course I fell in love with the Hazelwood educators, and they have so much to be proud of in their accomplishments academically, athletically and personally. I picked on them a bit, but bragged on them more.

Teaching teachers

I have been teaching teachers in various Masters Programs, and speaking at conferences and workshops for over thirty years now. I have spoken to well over 100,000 teachers now, and believe me I have experienced the good, the bad and the ugly. Having retired from teaching at Lindbergh high school, I must admit that I have been the good, the bad and the ugly. Every teacher worth his or her salt, or Pepper in my case, has mixed feelings once August is here.

If they have a teaching position, they are grateful, excited and a bit nervous. However, they also have a bit of angst at not getting everything accomplished they had hoped they would during the summer, and they always have more preparation than days left until school begins. I used to dread the “Back to School” signs and commercials that began the middle of July. I just wanted my full summer time to vacation, read, catch up with friends and families and just do nothing for a couple of days.

But it seems now that school begins in early August, and all of us are getting older, time goes by more quickly and summers are shorter and shorter. Plus, I teach most of my staff development workshops in the summer when teachers are working on certification or advanced degrees, and I no longer get summers off – even though I am supposedly retired!

Qualities of excellence

One of my favorite composites to share with my audiences is a list called “The top 10 Qualities Shared by Teachers and Leaders of Excellence”. This is an opportune time for self examination by any of us involved in any type of leadership, management, or supervisory capacity. I am the first to admit I have never perfected it through the years, but I never cease my efforts to improve. See how you relate in these top ten qualities:

1.    Others see them as “real” – they are trustworthy, safe and respected.

2.    They are good listeners.

3.    They see subordinates as real people.

4.    They have clear, consistent expectations.

5.    They seek solutions from many sources.

6.    They are flexible and willing to change.

7.    They have developed a good sense of humor.

8.    They can motivate those under them to succeed as well.

9.    They find the “good” and praise it.

10.  Both personally and professionally they live a life of balance.

The last number is broken down into the Carl Jung psychological profile of balancing one’s life in six categories: physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, family, and work. I don’t know anyone who has yet to perfectly balance his or her life in all six categories; I sure do admire those who consistently try.

This year as you bid your children, grandchildren or other friends and relatives a “Happy School Year” don’t forget to include the teachers in your sphere. It is not a job, and not even a profession; I believe that teaching is a calling. And our schools are the largest mission field on the face of the planet. So a prayer won’t hurt either. After 37 years in education, this has been my daily prayer:

Our lives will touch a hundred lives before this day is done,

Leave countless marks of good or bad before the setting sun;

So let this be the wish I always wish, the prayer I always pray;

Lord let me leave the mark of love on those I touch each day.

Dr. Debra Peppers, a professional speaker for 25 years, is one of only five inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame upon her retirement from Lindbergh High School. A member of the National Speakers Association, she has traveled to all 50 states and 60 countries teaching others that if she can go from being a 250-pound high school dropout, to Teacher of the Year there is hope for every child and adult. Her web site is www.pepperseed.org.

Read more posts by Debra Peppers, Ph.D., here. Dr. Peppers blogs for JenningsWire.


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