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Former teacher hopes book will inspire other educators

Cleo Lampos former teacher has written book about how teachers can find positives students who surface seem difficult.  |

Cleo Lampos, a former teacher, has written a book about how teachers can find the positives in students who, on the surface, seem difficult. | Larry Ruehl~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 1, 2013 6:02AM



This summer, Cleo Lampos, a retired teacher from Oak Lawn, got a phone call from the mother of a student Lampos had taught years ago.

She remembered the student — he was probably 10 or 11 years old when he was in Lampos’ classroom, bright and athletic, and he lived in a community rife with gangs. Lampos remembers she feared he might be a target of gang recruitment and urged his mother then to do her best to steer her son toward college.

The call in August was to let Lampos know that not only had he graduated from high school as class valedictorian, he was attending DePaul University on a full scholarship and due to graduate next June. His mother, in updating Lampos on her former charge’s progress, praised Lampos for believing in his ability.

“I was just doing my job,” Lampos said. “I saw a kid with potential.”

Helping other teachers see the potential in their students, particularly those who are hard to reach and can give an educator fits, is the goal of a book Lampos recently got published, “Teaching Diamonds in the Tough: Mining the Potential in Every Student,” drawn from her 26 years of teaching.

She worked in Oak Lawn-Hometown School District 123, then, after raising her family, in Cook County School District 130. She retired three years ago.

During her career, she dutifully kept a journal of her days in the classroom, which included teaching special-needs students, some of whom had behavioral issues.

Although she eventually earned a master’s degree in special education from St. Xavier University, early on in her career Lampos was frustrated she couldn’t get through to some of her students and journaling was her therapy.

“It was a good way of thinking things through,” she said.

The students she wrote about in her journal are in the book, but she’s changed names, locations and other information.

“It reads like it could be any kid in any classroom in the United States,” Lampos said.

The 20 vignettes each include Scripture verses and comments from other educators, she said.

We can change the world

Lampos went into teaching during an era when John F. Kennedy occupied the White House and young people were determined to fix the world’s problems.

“Everybody wanted to join Peace Corps or VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America),” Lampos said. “Ours was going to be the generation that was going to change everything, and teaching seemed to be a way to make a difference.”

What she found, however, was an education system where some teachers tended to write off students with behavioral issues or learning disorders. Although she wasn’t yet versed in working with special-needs students, Lampos was determined not to give up on them.

“It was part of that idealism, a thinking that ‘We’re going to try something different with them, but we’re going to try. Nobody’s getting left behind,’ ” she said.

Working with students who often misbehaved in class, Lampos said she had to keep her own emotions in check.

“The hardest part of teaching is staying calm,” she said.

She said she was able to achieve that by relying on her “faith in God, knowing the Bible and how it teaches us about the importance of every human being.”

Other books await publishing

Lampos said she’s serving as something of a mentor for five young teachers in the area, including one who teaches in Oak Lawn and two in the Chicago Public Schools.

“Sometimes they need someone to talk to” about their frustrations with the job, she said. “Maybe I can’t help them, but I can listen to them.”

Speaking of frustrations, getting her book published was a lengthy process.

“It can take years,” Lampos said, noting she was still teaching when she finished “Teaching Diamonds,” which came out in August.

She has four other books waiting in the wings that her agent is trying to match with a publisher. Two are romance novels involving teachers, and two are historical nonfiction pieces on the Orphan Train Movement, which involved the placement of an estimated 200,000 orphaned, abandoned and homeless children during the latter half of the 19th century and the early decades of the 20th century.

Lampos and her husband, Vernon, have three children, all of whom live in Oak Lawn. One daughter, Renee Lampos, works at Eisenhower High School in Blue Island, helping to find jobs for special-education students.



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