“For those people who are leaving the classroom, I want you to understand: just because you leave the classroom, doesn't mean you cannot affect education. A lot of our best educators are affecting education from outside the classroom.”
Hey there! Thanks for popping into my 5 Freedoms Life. I'm your host, Suzanne Klein, an educator-turned-entrepreneur with a 5 Freedoms Life and teaching you how to have one too! Welcome back to our Freedom for Educators Virtual Summit.
For days now I've been looking forward to sharing today's speaker’s message with you. He's a big deal, my friends: from Disney, to TED talks, to USA TODAY, and more. Known for his motivational presentations all over the world, he speaks to both corporate audiences and school districts like yours. He has equipped tens of thousands of people to overcome challenges, achieve more, and give back, with his unifying message: Liberation Through Motivation. Love that!
Just during the two weeks I've been talking with him, he's been to India and Cairo, Egypt. He knows a thing or two about business travel, having been to over 53 countries around the world.
You may think he's going to be speaking to us today about location freedom. But actually, he's not. He wanted to speak about people freedom. So I'd like to give a warm welcome to the accomplished author of 15 books, an inspirational speaker, and a lifelong teacher, Dr. Danny Brassell.
Thank you so much for having me, Suzanne, and thank you for your inspiration. You're showing teachers there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
And it's people like you at this virtual summit who are helping to show teachers they do have choices. I know you've worked with thousands of teachers who feels stuck, so I can't wait to jump right in.
Let's very quickly talk about your teaching background, because it is as wide as it is diverse. You went from an inner-city secondary teacher in Compton, California, to a professor at multiple universities, including Cal State and the University of Southern California. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Fortunately, I grew up in a home where my parents were very supportive of education. I was able to get a great education, and started my career as a journalist. Then a friend of mine showed me an opportunity to teach in South Central Los Angeles. I started teaching for the noblest of reasons, Suzanne: the high pay. Because it paid more than my journalist job.
I always tell people I've taught all ages from preschoolers to rocket scientists—I can make that claim, because I used to teach English as a Second Language to engineering students at USC. When I became a teacher, I wanted to be the next Jaime Escalante because of the movie Stand and Deliver, so they put me in Compton—a community in South Central Los Angeles. They started me working with high school students, then middle school, then upper elementary, then lower elementary. Soon, instead of preparing students for college, I was coming home with snot marks all over my pants every day. After leaving the Compton school district, I became a professor at Cal State. I was also a professor at Loyola Marymount. Now I’m a visiting professor at the American University in Cairo, and a faculty advisor for the Cal State teaching program. So I've taught everything and I've been an administrator. Plus, I'm a parent—so I know all the angles of education.
That's definitely an asset when you're going around speaking to thousands of people in schools.
So, with all your years in education, you wanted to speak about people freedom. Tell us, what burnt you out the most? Was it the constantly changing curriculum? The endless test prep? The late hours grading papers? What was it?
I had a principal—Mrs. Lucifer. She used to fly into my classroom every single day on her broomstick with her perma-scowl and her foreboding clipboard, and would write me up for everything she thought I was doing wrong. She was killing me. Fortunately, I had a Guardian Angel; I was blessed.
Not only was I the only man teaching at my school, I was the only white person. The teachers were predominantly elderly African-American women from the Deep South, who had all been teaching for at least 20 years.
My mentor was Mrs. Turner. She'd been teaching for 40 years. She was from Alabama, and she believed in two things: discipline and the Bible. When her little ones got out of line, she started reading Revelation aloud to them. And this woman—who is a saint, in my book—took it upon herself to take me under her wing, and taught me a system of how to bring joy into my classroom. That's what I did. The kids never burned me out. Sometimes it could be parents, but not often. It was this bureaucracy. I'm one of these people—whenever I ask a question, and the answer is not “Because that's what's best for the children,” then I always ask, “Well, why are we doing it, then?” There are so many people who do things just because that's the system, and I'm like, “But why are we doing it that way if that's not what's best for the kids?” That's what really disgruntled me and burnt me out.
I'm sure many teachers out there can relate. So, we don't want preach to the choir, because we know people out there in the trenches get it.
So how did you go from being around so many energy-sapping people for sure, that principal—to leaving the classroom and starting three companies, writing fifteen books, and speaking all over the world? How did you go from educator to entrepreneur, and what advice can you give educators out there who want to do it, too?
I had one student, Jonathan—one of the most gifted and talented students I ever had the pleasure of teaching. And one day, I was having a conference with his mother—a single working mother, 3 jobs, raising him and his older sister.
I always tell people now: Just because a parent isn't around does not mean they don't care. I've worked with incarcerated parents; I've worked with intoxicated parents. But I have never worked with a parent who doesn't love hearing me tell them nice things about their kid.
So, Jonathan's mother asked me a question I was not prepared to answer. She said, “Mr. Brassell, Jonathan looks at you like a dad. If you were his father, what would you recommend that I do?” And one word came out of my mouth: “Move.” Because her son was gifted, and my district did not have a Gifted & Talented program. And I knew if Jonathan stayed at my school the next year, he would get Miss Hampton—and she would destroy this young man. Because Miss Hampton is a direct descendant of Darth Vader. And I realized, If that's what I truly believe, then I need to resign.
Which I did. I taught the rest of that year, but that was it for me in the classroom. I still consider that the biggest failure of my life. I went into a deep depression. I wound up taking a position at the university, training
teachers and administrators.
And it was my mom—who's a peppy person—who gave me a pep talk. She said, “Don't you see, Danny? Don't you see, your job now is to pump up teachers and administrators, so they don't quit. You're going to affect so many more kids this way.” And that's why I do what I do for a living. Because if you read the newspaper or watch the news, they want to blame every single problem on public schools. I would invite any of those critics to do a public school teacher’s job for just one week. I mean, we should be having parades in their freaking honor.
You all know that, and that's where burnout comes—we lose too many people because they're putting in 25-hour days, 8 days a week, and that's just not practical. I've been really blessed. I'm still able to affect education from the outside.
The other problem with being an educator is that the only way you’re going to make more money is to become an administrator—which comes with a whole other set of issues you have to deal with. By leaving the classroom and becoming an entrepreneur, I've been able to have an income that I'm happy with. I have a lot more freedom financially, and I surround myself with the people I want to surround myself with. You don't want to spend your life around toxic people.
Right, exactly. And I know you have more than just people freedom. We talk about 5 Freedoms here: time, people, purpose, financial, and location. And I know you truly have all of them; you took my 5 Freedoms quiz and scored high on them all.
Which is awesome, by the way. Everybody should be doing that quiz. I really hope they do, because I love it; it's simple, but it's not easy. It's something that reminds people, “Oh, wait a second.” You're not saying anything people don't already know in their gut.
You remind them what all of us forget; that in order to have balance, you need to have all your spokes in alignment.
I like that about the spokes! Absolutely; it's not just about one freedom, it's having all five.
We're coming near the end of our time—I know, hard to believe! This is awesome. But I want to make sure that you answer a question I've asked all my guests for this summit.
What advice do you have for teachers in the classroom who want to be there—their heart’s still in it—but they're just having a really difficult year, a difficult class, whatever the case may be. They still want to be there, but they’re feeling burnt out. Or they're a teacher who just wants to leave education altogether. What advice do you have for them?
When I was an administrator, I used to always ask teachers, “Are you a Friday teacher, or are you a Monday teacher?”
The Friday teacher cannot wait for that final bell to ring. Happy hour can't come soon enough for this person. I get it; a lot of us get there, but we have to remember: Kids don't need Friday teachers; They need Monday teachers. The Monday teacher cannot wait to get back into that classroom to start inspiring her little ones.
But you've got to find your joy. For those people who are still in the classroom, the way you find your joy is this: You've got to incorporate your passion into your classroom. Shut the door and do it your way.
If you're going to go down... Believe me, people will dangle, “We're going to fire you.” I mean, I got fired 28 times. I was a difficult teacher because I always asked “Why?” Like, “Why aren't we doing this for the kids?” There's always a teaching job. So incorporate your passion.
I once had a teacher who loved quilting, and all of us quilted while we learned math and reading and history, and all of us were great quilters! She was still teaching the core, but she was there for 50 years because she incorporated her passion into her teaching. Me, I like singing. I like geography. I like newspapers. And we did a lot of that in my
classroom. In your classroom, if all you like is Michigan football, find ways to incorporate football into the bulk of your teaching. If you love stamp collecting, incorporate that into all your subject areas.
For those people who are leaving the classroom, I want you to understand this: Just because you leave the classroom does not mean you cannot affect education. A lot of our best educators today are affecting education from outside the classroom. If you can create a program that can be implemented in school systems, you're able to affect a lot more students than a single classroom, and impact classroom teachers who are a little bit burnt out.
You can leave the bureaucracy of the public education system and still be able to positively affect kids and their families. There are all kinds of ways to do that. I mean, Suzanne, you're an example of that. I've created a speaking company and an online reading program, and I have my books—so I'm able to actually impact a lot more kids that way. So that's why I always tell people, just because you're leaving the classroom and not directly affecting your 33 little ones, doesn’t mean you’re not teaching—you’re just leaving a much bigger footprint. Share it with the world even, through an online summit or whatever you might be doing.
That's a good point. Even though teachers feel pressured to teach the test and the standards and all that, I think your point is well taken. You still have to do the curriculum, the standards, wherever you go, but the idea is to incorporate things that you're passionate about.
I’m passionate about bats. So when I was teaching in the classroom, I did a whole thematic unit on bats. Got all my Common Core checked off, but was able to do that around the things that mattered to me. I think that's an awesome point.
I believe, Suzanne, that your students are not going to remember, “Oh, gosh, I remember that unit where we had Common Core standard 6.3 or 6.4.” Ten years from now they're going to remember, “Oh, I remember that bat unit!”
I've never had a kid come back ten years later and say, “Oh, Mister Brassell, I remember you boosted me to the next quartile!” Yeah, no. They remember how you worked with them using flashcards, and how you wore a silly hat every Wednesday to teacher math lesson. That's exactly what we're talking about. I think it's great you did that.
Yes, thank you. So, we are out of time, but I just want to thank you for sharing your message today about people freedom, and how you went from having negative, energy-sapping administrators and colleagues to having more people freedom by making the move and stepping outside. And your tips to help teachers go from surviving to thriving, and your encouraging words that anyone can do it, too. Set your mind to it, make a plan, create a plan, and make it happen.
You're impacting so many others, And I think the last message you imparted, about how you can make a difference even if you're not in the classroom, that it's okay to educate outside the classroom, is really important.
So, viewers, Danny has a freebie for you all. Do you want to just quickly mention what that is?
Absolutely! If you go to FreeReadingTraining.com, I'm going to provide you with three great goodies.
First of all, I want to give you a complimentary e-copy of my book, Read, Lead, and Succeed. It's a book I wrote for a principal who didn't know how to engage his faculty. Every week I give you a positive concept, an inspirational quote, an inspirational story, or a book recommendation—a book you should read but are probably too lazy to because you're an adult. So I also give you a children's picture book that demonstrates
the exact same concept and you can read in five minutes. We are losing too many great people. There is way too much negative energy. I like to get people smiling, and realizing we're on the same team.
I'm also going to give you a couple of digital training sessions, which basically help parents show their kids the value of reading. I think schools do a decent job at teaching kids how to read. But I always ask teachers, “What good is teaching a kid how to read if they never want to read?” Teach kids to read for the little boy who only reads Captain Underpants—I guarantee you that little boy is going to be a better reader than a little boy who's not reading anything. Captain Underpants is the gateway drug to Shakespeare, and that's how we get kids hooked on reading.
We've got to get everybody excited, and it's the same thing you're doing with your viewers, Suzanne. You might not be in the classroom, but you can always be a teacher no matter what you do. All of us are role models and teachers, and we can influence even more people when we leave the classroom, if leaving the classroom is what we need to do. There's nothing wrong with that.
Thank you so much for that, Danny. To get Danny's freebie, just click on the link above, or we have it again for you here.
So that's it. Thank you all for watching and listening. I'm Suzanne Klein, and I invite you to join us again as we talk to more educators-turned entrepreneurs.
Remember: you can rewrite your life. Until next time! Stay savvy, my friends.
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