Friday, April 20, 2018

WHAT EVER HAPPENED...? What I Miss about Teaching

          Each and every single day, I miss going to my classroom to write the date on the board. At the early part of my career, that was on a chalkboard. By the end, it was either that way or on a whiteboard with the dry-erase markers. Either way, I wrote a note to my class that we read together each day. I labeled this our “A.M. Routine.” It usually gave them an idea about what we’d be doing that particular day. Then – we’d read the schedule chart for that day of the week.

I also miss D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything and Read) Time. I tried to instill a love of reading in all my students. My favorite book to do this with was Love You Forever, written by Robert Munsch and illustrated by Sheila McGraw.
  The first time I learned about this excellent book, I was attending a teachers’ conference in upstate New York. When the facilitator read it, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the auditorium of over 300 educators.

Ever since that day, I did read that wonderful story to my students on the first and last day of each school year. I gave them copies of it for their birthdays or graduations or even when they were in the hospital. It represents life as it comes and goes and trying to find the good as each day passes. I have hard and soft covers of Love You Forever at my home, and I read it to myself when I need to feel better about losing the profession I adored. I will love that book forever….

Another thing I sorely miss about being a teacher is all the field trips I planned and took with each class every year. Because of my memory problems, I can’t remember all of them, but I do recall a few.

My friend Maggie mentioned in her writing about me (later in this book) the camping trips I took my Pine Plains students on. What a blast! Once, when our camping trip was canceled due to rain, we got permission to sleep in our classroom overnight, so we moved the desks to the hallway, brought in mats from the gym and held our sleepover there. I’m quite sure nowadays that would probably not be allowed to happen, but I’m glad we had so much fun doing that way back in the early 1980s!

Another trip I tried to plan annually was a trip to a nursing home to sing songs to the elderly at the holidays. We were always well-received and my students loved our rehearsals. We even practiced on the bus as our driver got us safely to our destination.

Our field trips were planned to wonderful places like restaurants, malls, movie theaters, farms, pools, museums, horseback riding stables, and oh, so much more, to teach our special needs students life skills. To this day when I drive by a place I know I once took a class to on such a trip, I try to remember all the fun things we learned there. I have so many pictures of these adventures, and when I look at them, it reminds me of what memories I gave my students and they gave to me.

          Holiday parties were also tons of fun. We dressed in costumes for Halloween. I miss dancing with my students to the “Monster Mash” by Bobby “Boris” Pickett & the Crypt-Kickers, when we were all dressed up for Halloween. Some of my students could not afford costumes, so I always had a pile of things they could pick from to wear for a party. One costume that the girls loved to wear was an old dress from the Radio City Rockettes.

You see, my grandparents were friends with a janitor from the famous Radio City Music Hall MANY years ago. When some of the costumes were thrown away, this friend grabbed some and gave them to Grandma and Grandpa McColl, who had three granddaughters (my sisters and me).

After we enjoyed them as children, I “inherited” them for my first teaching job. Those glittery, long dresses were worn many times by various female students of mine over the years for Halloween, and other times too. Oh, the fun times I had way back when!

We also dressed up as Pilgrims and Native Americans for Thanksgiving and as elves and reindeer for Christmastime, and so much more, to take a break from routines on these various special days. We prepared lots of snacks and meals and invited other school staff and students to join us in the celebrations.

          I also miss how we took care of needy children in other countries with Operation Christmas Child. Though this is led by a church organization, we were able to get approval to conduct it in our public schools (see letter in appendix).

I also miss the “little things” – like teaching a handicapped child how to tie his or her own shoelaces. From a craft fair, I would buy pretend wooden sneakers with colored laces, “sneakers” that they would keep in their desks. If someone had completed a task ahead of the others, he or she would take a sneaker out to practice. The look of excitement on their faces when they could finally tie it for themselves was priceless! Thank you, Karen O’Han, for making those adorable sneakers.

I also miss special things I did over the years. One unforgettable lesson was when we tapped a maple tree to make syrup. I inadvertently peeled paint off the wall of our classroom when we mistakenly boiled the sap down indoors. The pancakes we prepared with our own syrup were delicious though.

One field trip I remember like it was yesterday involved maple syrup. Since I never wanted to ruin the classroom's wall again, I took my students to the Bruderhof Woodcrest Community in Rifton, NY.

There, my students were taught how to correctly gather sap and make maple syrup. They were also treated to a delicious, free lunch when their tour was over.

For St. Patrick’s Day, I excused myself from eating lunch with my students and went back to our classroom to “trash” the place. I threw the garbage on the floor, overturned desks and chairs, scattered papers all around, and sprinkled green glitter by an opened classroom window. When the kids came back from lunch, they were excited to see what a little leprechaun had done to our nice, neat classroom. Years later, a former assistant of mine named Patty called to tell me she had copied my leprechaun idea with her classroom now that she was a teacher. That memory brought tears to my eyes when I played her message over and over again on my answering machine. I felt wonderful that some other classroom was having the fun I once had with mine.

I miss teaching Summer School, which I did for quite a few years. It was a six-week program for the life-skills students whom I had taught during the school year. We continued the work we were accomplishing during the previous year, so when school resumed in the fall, those skills would not be lost.

I assigned less classwork, and thus less homework, during the summer, but we still put in quite a few hours of repetition of lessons needing their attention. I tried to make the learning as fun as possible because some of their siblings were not having to attend school in the summer and our students had to come, probably wishing they were somewhere else.

We had special days planned just with the word “fun” in mind. My personal favorite was Waterplay Day.

I don’t really remember how I came up with this idea, but it sure was a good one! We played outside in our swimsuits for the entire day. The students had to earn their “invitation” to the wet festivities by completing their work for days and weeks before, as well as by being well-behaved. Some of my former students, whom I still keep in touch with, tell me how this extraordinary day is still remembered by them decades later.

We had squirt guns and sprinklers. We painted their feet, and they walked across rolls of mural paper before having their toesies sprayed down. We put beach balls and water balloons into a parachute and bounced them around. We got soaking wet for all of these games.

We also had kiddie pools and pool toys galore. We would take “breathers” by sitting them down on our beach blankets and/or their towels spread on grass instead of sand.

We had egg races with teams lined up with eggs and spoons. Then, we’d throw dozens of eggs at each other and need another “hose-down.” Picking up all the eggshells left over from this event was a race also.

We enjoyed buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken for lunch. Dessert would be a pie-eating contest. The first year we did this, I bought Freihofer’s individual apple pies, which, of course, tasted yummy, but the fillings were hard to see on their faces as they hurriedly downed them with their hands behind their backs. All the remaining Waterplay Days, I bought cherry and blueberry pies so their faces were covered in colorful fruit fillings after they scrambled to win first place. Some of my best pictures of these days were taken of various students laughing uncontrollably with pie all over their faces!

I also miss an idea I used for many years called our “Compliment Pizza Party.” Because many of my students had behavior issues, they didn’t always act appropriately when around others in our school. So, when they “got it right,” and someone complimented them for anything they were “caught” doing, we’d mark it up on a pizza slice made of paper. When all eight “slices” were filled with compliments, we ordered pizzas, and everyone enjoyed celebrating our accomplishments.

Sometimes our parties happened often and other times we had to wait for a long while. It all depended on their good behavior being observed and then mentioned by others. The kids were so excited when they saw the last slice fill up because pizza was coming soon! I’ve included in an appendix the invitation we sent out when our “pizza wheel” was full.

Another fun time including pizza was Pizza Hut’s Book It! program. We set up a goal for how much reading a child had to accomplish in a month. If the child reached the goal, he or she won a certificate and a free personal pan pizza from the local restaurant. Since most of my students weren’t taken to the restaurant, I collected their certificates and then picked up boxes and boxes of little pizzas. Then, we ate them all together. They loved this special activity, and I believed that helped them enjoy reading.

For Earth Day, we made “dirt”! We crushed Oreos, added chocolate pudding, peanuts, chocolate chips, coconut sprinkles colored with green food coloring and more to resemble dirt, rocks, and grass. It was all put in a clear cup and topped with a Gummi worm. This was after we learned about taking care of our planet. As on other special days, I wore my “teacher earrings” that were shaped like the globe and said, “Earth Day.” I have a huge collection of these fun earrings, most of which were made by Art in Heaven of Altamont, NY, and I still wear them out and about years later. For example – I wear my birthday cake earrings when I attend someone’s birthday celebration, my pizza earrings when I go out for pizza, and my groundhog earrings on Groundhog Day. I have over 60 pairs of these cute earrings, and I love looking at them to remind me of my school days gone by.

I used to make a big deal out of a student’s birthday. I grew up in a family that did just that, so I think that’s where I got that idea. My mother would make sure I got my favorite breakfast. During that mealtime, I got to open a gift before going to school. Then, when I came home, our family got to eat my favorite dinner either at home or at a restaurant of my choice. Then – there were more gifts with dessert. I still love sending cards (and receiving them) on special days. But – let’s get back to teaching. So – my staff and I would plan a party at the end of the school day for our “birthday student.” Their favorite goodie was served (or a cake we either purchased or prepared). There were cards and gifts. Not all, but many of my students throughout my career, didn’t have a lot of money, so we spoiled them on this day.

One year, I began a birthday tradition where we squirted whipped cream from a can into the mouth of the celebrator while their head was tilted back (as well as anyone else at the party who wanted to partake). When it was my birthday, I got to be the one who sat under the nozzle. One year a student really had fun squirting it all over the place, so from then on, we wore aprons when it was our birthday. What a lot of messy fun that was!

Another thing I miss about teaching was a day I dubbed “Reading Day.” We moved the desks out of the way and lay on our carpeted floor with beanbags, comfy chairs, and lots of pillows. I read to my students all day in my Mickey Mouse slippers. I wanted them to just have a day to enjoy books all day long. We ate our lunch like a picnic right there in the classroom. I miss them telling me which books they wanted to read.

Speaking of those special MM slippers, another great day we had was Mickey Mouse’s birthday (November 18). I did a math lesson to teach them subtraction with the year it was and the year he debuted (1928) so we could figure out how old he was. We also played math games with dice decorated with his picture.

We dressed up in the many T-shirts and sweatshirts I collected over the years. We prepared MM pancakes for breakfast. We read many Disney books and watched a Disney movie at the end of our day. I’m sure that there was much more to it than that, but my memory right now (spring, 2016) only has that left in it.

I miss dispersing all the Disney World souvenirs I used to buy for my students. They loved the Rice Krispies treats (in the shape of Mickey’s head) the most. Pencils and pens were my favorite (of course, “Teach”). I loved gathering fun things there to fly back to New York with. I’d jam my suitcases with these items, and my mother would get stuck with the job of boxing up and then mailing my clothes after I left, since there was no room for my stuff!

And back to Summer School, another special day we had was Moon Day. On July 20, we learned about the first men who walked on the moon in 1969. We read books about the moon, space, and astronauts. We also made a “clean” mess by making moon pictures. We used Ivory soap flakes mixed with water and then plopped some onto black paper. The students, using their hands, turned them into the shape of the moon and used their fingers to poke craters into the soap mixture. After the pictures dried, we wrote on the black paper with white chalk… “Moon Day, 1997” (for example).

As usual, we had a snack related to this theme – Moon Pies come to mind.

Because most of my career was spent teaching Life Skills special education classes, we prepared food a lot. Most of the time, this lesson was planned for Friday mornings.

Many of the food selections we prepared were consumed by our students and staff that same day. But, many times we had leftovers. Some of my favorite memories were bringing those leftovers to homeless people I knew of.

One man who hid in the woods near where I lived for a while got all excited when he saw my car pull up on Fridays. He’d run to grab the container out of my hand, and then run just as quickly back into the woods with it. To this day, I wonder what ever happened to him after I moved away. He always screamed, “Thanks,” as he scurried to eat our offerings. Did I ever tell my students about their leftovers going to the homeless???

I miss how I tried to make Mother’s Day a special day for my students’ mommies. I went to a flower shop and bought enough beautiful flowers so each student could go home with the one he or she picked out and had wrapped in wet paper towels with foil.

Even though I’ve never been a mother, and for many years lost touch with my foster son, Brian, I tried to do my best when I helped my students make cards to take home with those flowers. Nowadays, I just “hibernate” on that day, because it’s too much of a reminder for me of what I’ve lost and what I’ve never had.

I miss those Scholastic Book Sales. I bought lots of books for my classroom at those sales. And, if my students had no money for a book they wanted, I bought those also. I never wanted any of “my kids” to go home empty-handed.

One summer in the 1990s, when I worked for Ulster County BOCES, I got permission from my supervisors to take one-on-one, after-school field trips with the students in my class, who happened to be all boys.

After the school day was complete, the student and I would head to my car, drive to the local Hudson Valley Mall, eat in the food court, go shopping at a store of his choice, and then go to the movie theater.

I saw two movies repeatedly (Jurassic Park and Free Willy) because each boy got to select which of these two movies to see.

These few hours I still remember. I only had about six young boys in my class then. We had so much fun.

I know special requests like that would not be allowed nowadays. But, once, when I bumped into one of my students from that time who was now grown up, he told me his favorite time in school was when I took just him to the mall. That made my day, hearing that!

Another vague memory is that we used to finger-paint with chocolate pudding. I can’t remember how this idea got started, or for what theme it was linked to, but I sure do remember the fun of it all.

The kids would “paint” a picture with a blob of chocolate pudding. Then, of course, they would lick their hands. This project made quite a mess of the room as well as of their faces, but it was worth it!

I also miss when my own parents would send our classroom a box of Honeybell oranges from Florida each January. They are so juicy that special straws were needed to poke into them to sip them. The kids, staff, and I loved that slippery mess of orange juice running down our faces and necks as we “drank” from the oranges.

I still remember the happy faces I saw on the students who were in my class for a few years, when they walked in on some cold, January day and saw the box from Florida. They knew it was going to be a fun snack time that day!

Recently, I found the 1881 “Code of Conduct for Teachers” of the Bentley Memorial School, which put some of my experience into a new context. For example, one of the nine requirements stated, “After ten hours in school, the teachers may spend the remaining time reading the Bible or other good books.” Wow! Things sure have changed since the 1800s! [No chocolate pudding, then.]

These fond memories I think about now. I miss all the work that went into planning things like that. The activities made my job so enjoyable. Sometimes, I wish I could just go back in time and relive all of that, knowing that one day, it would be gone forever, so enjoy every second of it!

In many instances my effort received warm recognition. For example, the former head of Ulster County BOCES, Laura R. Fliegner, wrote me a commendation concerning my teaching:

…. Your job is not easy. The hours and the emotions which you invest in your teaching roles cannot be measured in the normal way we calculate such things. That “extra something special” which you bring to the job is immeasurable, and may make the difference between the total success or failure of your children to improve their lives.

Thank you, Janet, for all that you do for our (your) children.

I thank God every day for the opportunity I had to teach and that I can remember some of these happy times, gone, but not forgotten….


For the coming year, I will be excerpting, weekly, material from this fine book by Janet Johnson Schliff, M.S.Ed.. She wrote it over a three-year period, with some coaching and editing help from me, through my business, The excerpts are from the almost-final version. 

Her memoir is now available in paperback and ebook formats from and from its publisher, 



Janet Johnson Schliff was on WKNY  Radio 1490 at 9:10 a.m. on Thursday, March 1, Kingston, NY.

Janet Johnson Schliff spoke at 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 3, at Barnes & Noble, 1177 Ulster Avenue, Kingston, NY.

I [DWC] attended, along with almost 40 other people. The talk was especially well received, with several questions at the end, as well.
Congratulations, Janet!

Janet Johnson Schliff spoke at the Starr Library in Rhinebeck, NY, at 7 p.m. on March 6. 

She spoke at the Golden Notebook Bookstore in Woodstock, NY, at 2 p.m. on March 17. 

She spoke at the Morton Library in Rhinecliff, NY, at 6:30 p.m. on March 28. 

She spoke at RCAL in Kingston, NY, at 4 p.m. on April 3. I was able to attend. They gave her an impromptu book-launch party.

On 4/4/18 Janet spoke at the Parkinson's Support Group at the Starr Library at Rhinebeck at 2:30 p.m.

On 4/27/18 Janet spoke at the Stone Ridge Library at 5:30 p.m.

On 5/4/18 Janet will be at the Hurley Library at 6 p.m.

On 5/9/18 Janet will be at the Kingston Library at 6 p.m.

On 5/14/18 Janet will be at the Staatsburg Library at 7 p.m.

On 5/31/18 Janet will be at the Clinton Community Library at 6:30 p.m.

On 6/9/18 Janet will be at the Tannersville Library at noon.

On 6/20/18 Janet will be at the Marbletown Community Center at 6 p.m.

On 7/13/18 Janet will be at the Esopus Library at 7 p.m.

More signings will be coming up, and a fine feature about her by John DeSantos [845 LIFE] appeared in the Middletown Times Herald-Record on Monday, March 12, as part of Brain Injury Awareness Month. An article about her book was just published in the May 2018 Living Rhinebeck Magazine. She was recently interviewed by the Kingston Daily Freeman, and that interview should be published soon.

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