Thoreau (pronounced thu-ROO) Middle School boasts a brand new building, and when you walk in you’re welcomed in English, Spanish, and Navajo. Just as classes ended in late May, StoryCorps Facilitator Rose Gorman and I stopped by to record with the teachers and staff of TMS as part of StoryCorps’ National Teachers Initiative.
Our first participants of the day were middle school teacher Matthew Lanz and one of his graduating students, Israel Gonzales, who was recognized this year by teachers for being a hard working teen.
Israel and Matt spoke about living on a Navajo reservation, school life at TMS, and Israel’s goals for the upcoming school year.
The pair also discussed the small number of Navajo teachers on the reservation, when Israel expressed his desire for more teachers that looked like him. “I mean no disrespect to you, Mr. Lanz,” Israel said, telling Matt that he was a great teacher and coach, but that he would like to see himself reflected in the adults teaching him.
“In a perfect world,” Matt answered, “that would be the way things would be.” Matt understood Israel’s desire to be surrounded by adults in postions of power who look like him, but as Teach for America Corps Member, Matt also understood the necessity to have good teachers — of any race and gender — in the areas of our country that are often overlooked.
But their conversation did not end there: Israel and Matt discovered a lot about each other in this moment outside the classroom, talking for the first time about their families and what drives them to succeed. Israel spoke of the place Christianity holds in his life, and Matt shared why he chose to become a teacher.
Matt and Israel’s conversation embodied what StoryCorps and the National Teachers Initiative is all about: Two people walked away knowing each other a little better, and despite not fully reflecting his students, a teacher learned how much he is appreciated.