Giddy-up or Give it up? Lessons from my day with President Carter!

Today I spent the day taking our high school to Americus, Georgia to see President Carter speak. He wasn't speaking about world peace or politics, but rather on his career as an author of twenty books and a great “writing across the curriculum message” at Georgia Southwestern University.

I pondered these things on the way home.

“Giddyup” to learning and not “give it up”
(For non Americans “giddyup” is what cowboys often say to their horse to get him to go!)

Politics are irrelevant in this, Jimmy Carter is smart man. When he wanted to write a book on poetry, he found some professors at Arkansas State University to help him. He called them “his professors.”

He is the first American president to write a work of fiction, “The Hornet's Nest.” When we decided to write a novel, he found out the best professors at Emory and UGA and others and invited them to the Carter Center for a private session on how to write a novel. They gave him reading assignments and checked out over 50 books from Emory University to write what some historians claim as the most accurate depiction of the Revolutionary War in a novel.

He said that when he struggled with writing:

I took the things my professors told me and put them on sticky notes around my computer.”

OK, here is a former US president, Nobel Peace laureate, former state senator, former Governor, Naval Officer, nuclear physicist, and author of many books and he needs teachers!

When most people would sit on their laurels and “give it up,” Carter says “giddyup,” teach me some more!

He is over 82 years old and he walked, talked, and acted like a man at least twenty years younger. I believe it is his mental attitude towards learning (and a little outdoors every day and faith) that have him so agile and youthful!

No matter what I thought of his politics, I am changed forever by his speech. That wasn't even the message he was giving! But if HE needs teachers, I do too!

Surround yourself with the best “professors” / “professionals”

Now, he can call the best professors at his whim and trust me, they'll come!

I can too! Using my bloglines accounts, I tap into the wisdom of some great professors who have also changed my life. I read them. I listen to them. I search their blogs!

Some of my professors are: Anne Davis, Ewan McIntosh, David Warlick, Kathy Sierra, Marshall K, Mr. K, John Pederson, Doug Johnson, Bud the Teacher, Christopher Sessums, Lawrence Lessig, Tim Lauer, K.G. Schneider, the Shifted Librarian, Stephen Downes (maybe he'll return soon), Jeff Utecht, Web-logged, Jerram Froes, Joe MacLeay, Guy Kawasaki, and Jeff Pioquinto.

I also learn from every commenter, every student, and every book! Never before in history, has such a wealth of knowledge from those who know been available. Today, RSS means Relatively Simple access to Sages (well RSaS, but you get my point.)

I am no longer out of touch in rural Georgia, but in some ways my disconnectedness in presence has made me more connected in reality because I have time to read. My five minute commute gives me time to come home and check bloglines and blog!

You see, I believe as long as I say “giddyup” to learning that I will continue to be excited, motivated, driven, and optimistic.

Do you “know it all?” Do you make a conscious effort to learn something new every day? Who are your “professors?”

Teachers must say “Giddyup” and not “give up” with their students.

As I observed the four thousand high school kids and smattering of college kids, I was pained to make some observations where I noticed we as educators may have “given up.”

Here is the President of the United States speaking and I noticed a few things lacking:

  • Some lack of respect for his office and authority. Chattering, loud talking at some points. The moment he concluded, several teachers bolted out the door with their students. He was taking questions and many students were talking! Have we given up teaching students that there are times to listen and times to speak?
  • Slovenly dress. I'm not one of those who says you can't wear jeans if that is the only thing in your closet, however there are times for students to look their best. Some teachers give up because of the effort it takes, and what do you do with those who don't dress up, and how do you deal with it? We have a right to ask students to dress in their best for certain things, whatever it may be even if it is a pain.

    From my time in the businessworld, I will tell you that one of the worst mistakes a person can commit is to show up to a job interview dressed inappropriately. As a businesswoman, I often wondered what kids were taught about dress. Appearance is not the only thing but it does count.

    Have we given up teaching students that there are times to dress up and have manners? A girl accepted an award today from President Carter with low rise cargo pants, two inches of belly and a tattooed back and a shirt three sizes too small. The winner didn't even show. Not every student has a coat and tie. Not every student has the money for nice clothing. Many schools have uniforms. They can look nice and be tucked in. If you're getting an award from a former President of the United States, you show up!

  • Inquisitive Minds. The former President of the United States asked if there were questions. He got two. From adults. The students sat there chattering among themselves quietly. Did their teachers not discuss him? Did they not have burning questions about anything they wanted to ask? The war in Iraq? His efforts for peace? His opinions on China? Free carte blanche question time and out of four thousand students, no questions.

    Have we given up making students willing to stand up in a crowd? Are they so afraid of ridicule that the desire to know is quelled? Why did that happen?

  • The lack of adults. I'd see 100 kids sitting together and one or two adults, enough to drive the buses perhaps. There were so many kids and so relatively few adults. It bothered me. I know other teachers had to get substitutes and perhaps weren't allowed to go. Why not? We need more adults who want to work with students or when they get to be adults no one will be able to work with them. Students need to be supervised and chaperones. Some of my most teachable moments happen on trips.

Students behave as they are expected to behave. I expect my students to listen, participate, and contribute and they do. I hear other teachers talking about how “lazy” these same students are for them. Why? These are the same students!

You know I love students and teenagers. They are wonderful, mixed up messes of hormones, energy, excitement, and raw material. Nothing is more exhilarating than basking in the presence of their minds and creativity!

However, perhaps some of their shortcomings are our fault. We have “given up” instead of saying “giddyup.”

Yes, kids fight you. Yes, parents fight you. Yes, they don't mind. Yes, its tough. Yes, you have to pick your battles. Yes, I'm idealistic.

But if I don't stand up and teach, who will? If I don't help kids learn manners, dress, and behavior who will? Their parents should but many do not! If they are in my classroom and the moment arises, it is my job!

Is there something that you've declared “I give up” when you should be declaring “giddyup?” Are you so tired that you don't think it is worth it any more?

We all get there (I do about the second week in May) and we've all been there. But don't stay there long. Get out of your rut and care!


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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Jeff Utecht March 16, 2006 - 3:32 am

I am honored to be on your list of professors and especially in a posting like this. I don’t know what to say other than Giddy-up!



Bronwyn G March 16, 2006 - 4:40 am


I think you’re right that not many teachers have the courage and integrity to say GIDDY UP to their students now a days.

But on the other hand, students today aren’t horses.

There are so many things I would have asked Carter if he came into my classroom. Like about Habitat for Humanity and how that’s going, and how I could be of service to America.

Vicki A. Davis March 16, 2006 - 12:08 pm


Of course, students aren’t horses, but I believe we learn better with analogies.

Horses don’t go anywhere unless asked. This is also true with students!

Thanks for the comment, Bronwyn G. Thanks for reading, Jeff!

Nancy McKeand March 16, 2006 - 7:17 pm

I really loved you post. Not only am I amazed by Jimmy Carter and what he has done since leaving the White House but also it is so important for people to realize what potential there for us to learn and grow with a little help from our fellow bloggers. As I have said many times, most of my “professional development” as an educator comes from blogs these days.

I think, too, that it is important to recognize the encouragement we can give each other through our blogs when we start to give up. Even if everyone else at your school seems to have given up, Bloglines can take to you someone who hasn’t. And they can also bring someone who hasnt to your blog is you are open enough to talk about it.

I can no longer imagine my professinal life without blogging. More than that: I don’t want to!

Vicki A. Davis March 16, 2006 - 7:43 pm

Nancy, you and I are in 100% agreement on this. I had a professor in college who always said that you could motivate with a stick or a carrot but that carrots work better than sticks!

I think we have too many sticks in the educational world and not enough carrots. It is vital that we encourage one another. It is also vital that we have meaningful discussions about things that need to change, but to do it in a way that is productive and not destructive. Sometimes how we do something is as if not more important than what we do!

What great observations you have, thank you for posting!

Georgia Southwestern State University November 27, 2009 - 7:09 am

We have a few college students online from college of Georgia Southwestern State University and we love your blog postings, so well add your rss or news feed for them, Thanks and please post us and leave a comment back and well link to you. Thanks Jen , Blog Manager, Georgia Southwestern State University

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