Teaching from the Heart–in the Freeze

“I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework.”

~Lily Tomlin as “Edith Ann”



Back in Massachusetts for a winter-visit, my teacher-friends wake up early, lesson plans ready. Julie Bucceri meets her first group of 6th graders before 8 o’clock, and Stacey Hill leaves home by 6:45. She’ll pick up some neighbor kids and be standing in front of students by 7:10.

This week at Doherty High in Worcester, Stacey’s 9th graders talk about reasons for early puberty while her AP classes move on to genetics. But today, dressed in jeans and an “Envirothon” t-shirt over the layers, she and her team go on a field-trip (despite the below-freezing nip that reminds me why I no longer live in wonderful New England!) She’s happy for the change of pace since the days can feel repetitive.

staceywithyearbookHere’s a teacher who loves her work: The 2013 yearbook was dedicated to Ms. Hill. (Her son also graduated from Doherty that year and attended his mom’s AP biology class. Now off to college, Zak was captain of the baseball, basketball and golf teams. I didn’t know that before this visit.)

We all know, students aren’t always happy in class, nor are they jazzed by all lessons. One day during my visit  Stacey reported a moment that grabbed students’ attention: She noticed wads of paper all over the back of the classroom.

“What is this, and who is responsible?” I demanded when she saw the mess. “One of the big guys in the front row actually jumped from his seat. I hadn’t yelled so loud in a long time, so it scared them and no one said anything as one of the boys stood up and picked up all the paper.” The students had conducted some kind of paper-fight when the teacher wasn’t looking, but they hadn’t considered the future when she’d catch on.

“When I see kids write down their homework assignment on the schedule I give  them or on their own calendar, I’m happy. And when they ask, “Can I go to my locker? Can I go to the bathroom? I say ‘no, no, no, No!'” –because she’s learned a lot about what kids need to grow healthy lives.

Some days require tough love.

Yesterday I texted Julie: “Repeat after me: These kids are lucky I’m their teacher.” We must sometimes remind each other!

IMG_20140128_173452Julie teaches Language Arts at the brand new David Quinn Middle School in Hudson. This year she led her team of teachers to create lessons around the short novel A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park. Based on a true story, the novel interweaves Salva’s journey–as one of 3,800 Sudanese “Lost Boys” airlifted to the United States beginning in the mid-1990s– to a Sudanese girl’s life in 2008: She must carry water many kilometers for her family’s survival. Many of the girls fetching water in Sudan don’t ever get to go to school.

Julie and her colleagues hope this story helps kids to better understand what people can endure–and be inspired by what’s possible. The novel gives them plenty to write about while bringing history to life. Julie’s foster-daughter, Joyeuse Uwamahoro–a Rwandan refugee, now 24–visited the sixth graders and told her own story of coming to the USA when she was just 17 years old.

It’s terrific how the teachers are using this book to help students understand connections, to see how the world works–here and far away.

Teaching is how we all met–in grad school–and the three of us spent some years as Peace Corp Volunteers. Julie and I both lived in the Philippines, Stacey in Niger. It’s fun to see where they teach now and how they each inspire lives. It’s a demanding job, and many people don’t know how hard a good teacher works. Bravo! Thank you!


3 Replies to “Teaching from the Heart–in the Freeze”

  1. I like this upbeat article, showing how teachers care intensely for their students, their minds and their world view.

  2. Everyone needs a special teacher who understands them. Mine was a 3 month substitute in elementary school. After her I realized I was not a bad kid, the system was bad!

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