Two days left. No, I haven’t given up on my original 71 day challenge. I have many, many entries left to post. I am, however, waiting until the year is over to publish them. See, it’s impossible to truly give you a glimpse into my classroom without sharing the daily stories of my students. And 8th grade students are savvy little rascals; they stumbled upon my blog and began trying to “guess the student” in various posts. While the stories were positive and uplifting, I feared that I’d hurt students’ feelings by NOT including individual accounts of every child. So it’s best to just wait on those.

So here we are.  Two more days.

One of my original goals when I decided to walk away from teaching was to make each day count. To that end, I spent a lot of time reflecting on lessons and practices that were “sticky” throughout the years. When former students would come back to visit, what did they talk about?  What did they remember?

Some would mention certain books we’d read. Others would mention silly grammar songs. But the most popular memory of all?  The firm handshake.

It’s the very first thing I teach each year– the “art” of a handshake. We discuss their importance. We talk about first impressions. We practice. We practice.  And we practice some more. No wimpy handshakes allowed in Mrs. Nianouris’s classroom. No sir-ee.

And it sticks.

It’s part of what I call my “life lesson” series.  The idea came to me after reading Ron Clark’s Essential 55 years ago, and I’ve been teaching little life lessons ever since. I try to incorporate at least one throughout the week. Sometimes, it’s a spur-of-the-moment lesson. Quick. Five seconds about being a good human being. Other times, they’re a little longer and involve deeper topics. Regardless, they’re what sticks.

Sadly, because I only see the kids in an academic setting, I don’t get to witness many of these lessons in action (read: when it counts).  I always wonder, “Will they remember?”  Well, last week, I had the pleasure of watching many of the lessons materialize before my eyes in Washington DC.  I witnessed boys stepping back to let girls off the elevator first. I watched my girls offer their seats to the elderly on the subway. I beamed with pride as students shook the hands of our tour guides and thanked them, genuinely. A girl told a pregnant woman she looked lovely. Boys held doors…for hundreds.

They usually had no idea I was watching, and they did it anyway. Those four days were the absolute pinnacle of my career.

On the last day of school, I am giving them my final life lesson, along with a list of everything we’ve covered in our time together. Here they are, in no particular order:

  1.  Have a firm handshake
  2. Always buy from lemonade stands.
  3. When picking up a date, always go to the door. Never honk or text.
  4. Thank people who aren’t often recognized.
  5. Hold the door.
  6. If you decide to seek a 4-year degree, live on campus. Start as a freshman. While it’s cheaper to do two years at community college and transfer, it’s hard to assimilate into the culture as a Junior. You can ALWAYS pay back a loan, but you’ll NEVER get to “redo” 18-22.
  7. Boys – Let women off the elevator first.
  8. Speak properly. Text properly. It’s often the second impression you’ll give people (after the  handshake)
  9. When someone shows interest in you by asking you a question, (i.e. “How are you?) it’s polite to ask them in return.
  10. Remember people’s names.
  11. Unless an adult tells you otherwise, you should always refer to him/her as Mr. or Mrs.
  12. Remember people’s birthdays.
  13. When thanking someone for a gift, give an earnest “thank-you” within three seconds.
  14. Always stop to help people pick up items they’ve dropped.
  15. Sing.
  16. Unless a woman is actively birthing a baby, never ask if she’s pregnant. Really. Don’t. Because…what if she ISN’T?
  17. Sing some more.
  18. Tip your servers well. It’s one of the hardest jobs out there.
  19. Stop for lost animals that don’t look threatening. Help them get home.
  20. When apologizing, go beyond “I’m sorry.”  Try adding, “I’m sorry. How can I make this right?”
  21. Give sincere compliments.
  22. Shower daily.
  23. Give up your seat for the elderly.
  24. Stand-up to greet your grandparents.
  25. If you have bad grades, mom and dad are going to be more understanding if you tell them BEFORE the teacher does. And when you tell them, have a plan in place to make it right. Show them what you’re going to do differently next time.
  26. Before you blame your teacher, check yourself.
  27. Don’t be a bystander. The Holocaust happened because the people who knew about it didn’t stop it. Evil prospers when people are bystanders to cruelty.
  28. When a friend loses a loved one, go to the funeral, even if you didn’t know the person. Funerals are about support.
  29. Don’t use someone’s death to get attention for yourself. It’s insulting those who truly loved the deceased person. “RIP posts” on Facebook or Twitter are tacky. You’re making it all about you. And it’s. not. about. you. (repeat that mantra daily)
  30. The only acceptable comment to EVER make about a pregnant woman’s appearance is, “You look great.”  Never ask if she’s having twins, never mention her size (large or small) or tell her she’s about to pop. Pregnant women are emotional beings. Tread lightly. (See #16)
  31. Regardless of what people have told you, you can’t simply be “anything you want to be.” It takes hard work. Plain and simple. This isn’t Hogwarts. Magic wands aren’t part of the deal.


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