Friday, May 29, 2020

The Best Lessons My Students Ever Taught Me by MK Mueller


About Me

Award-winning author and TEDx Presenter MK Mueller spent ten years as a high school teacher and loved it, but at the age of 34 she found herself in a domestic violence shelter. There she learned new insights that she now shares through her 8 to Great life-skills SEL program for high school students and educators. Today MK offers in-services and assemblies around the country, regularly presents at national education conferences, and continues to train and certify hundreds of teachers and life coaches in her 8 to great SEL Process each year. 

The Best Lesson My Students Ever Taught Me

I was never planning on teaching. I wanted to be an actress, so I went off to Washington D.C. and performed on the Kennedy Center stage. I thought I was on my way until a volunteer position changed my life forever. 

I signed up to help out at an alternative high school in an old house on Dupont Circle with more cockroaches than books. My first day I met Kai, who had always wanted to learn piano. I taught him his first scale and his first song. He was ecstatic. The next week I met Nick who had never finished a book. After an hour of listening to him talk about life, I recommended The Hobbit. He finished that and the trilogy in two weeks. 

Now, 35 years later, those students still inspire me to really listen. Some days in my crowded classrooms I would think I was listening. I’d look at each student while they were talking, giving them my full attention. But what I wasn’t listening to was what they weren’t saying. 

So I invited my students to journal, and discovered that students will write what they will not say. I recall an experience that brought that home while substituting for another English teacher. We finished our lesson early, so I handed out half sheets of paper with the invitation, “Write anything - questions, comments, a poem, a drawing. Signatures optional.”

One young woman wrote that the regular English teacher hated her because she was always late. “What she doesn’t know is why I’m late,” she wrote. “My father is dying and the nurse who cares for him is supposed to be there by 7:30, but she always says her bus is late, so I have to run eight blocks after she gets there because I can’t leave him alone.”    

She had signed it, so I found her during her last period of the day. I asked if she had spoken with the teacher and she said she was too afraid to. I offered to be there with her for support. She agreed. Their conversation ended in a teary hug.

And then there was Russell. He transferred to our school mid-semester. Russell was always the first to arrive and the last to leave. I stood at the door at the end of each class to collect their folded journaling pages, and he would always hand his in blank. 

The fourth time it happened I looked him in the eye and said, “I’m listening.”

That day after school I stopped by the principal’s office and asked what he knew about our latest transfer. “He and his Mom and sister ran away from their abusive dad and were living in the Salvation Army shelter, but there was an electrical fire in their room two nights ago. I think they’re living in their car so I asked the counselor to check it out.”

“That explains why he never smiles,” I said. “I’m concerned his rage could erupt. He needs an outlet. Do you know any martial arts teachers?” 

Our team was able to get Russell into a martial arts class, and the counselor helped them find a safe place to live. Russell started smiling again. 
During this coronavirus, what might journaling look like? Maybe mailing each student four pre-addressed envelopes with stamps, and inviting them to write to you once a week for a month. It could turn out to be the most rewarding month of your career.  Regards,
MK Mueller
Podcast: MK Mueller's Positive Powercast
To receive weekly inspirational messages from MK,
just text 8togreat to 22828.

About MK Mueller's handbook Social Emotional Learning - The 8 to Great Life Skills 

This student handbook (each a separate skill) of The 8 to Great SEL process includes bullet journal activities, easy to remember formulas for success, a quiz, and stories of students using that skill to become more successful. 

This 8 Step Life-Skills process has been taught in over 300 high schools, middle schools, home schools and rehab centers around the country in a variety of ways:
- Freshman Orientation
- Homeroom/advisory
- Leadership classes
- Health classes
- Senior Seminar/Retreat
- Creative Writing
- Juvenile Justice Recovery Programs
- Career Prep Classes




Teach 100