StoryCorps Door-to-Door traveled to the City of Roses to record stories of the area’s teachers for our National Teachers Initiative. While in Portland, StoryCorps Facilitator Gaspar Caro and I spent a day at a middle school operated by Self Enhancement, Inc., which has grown from an after-school basketball camp into an agency that serves thousands of students. The next day, we drove down the street to Jefferson High School, where we spent two days recording the stories of teachers who have participated in the Oregon Writing Project at Lewis & Clark. OWP trains teachers to help their students explore and gain a critical understanding of the world through writing.
Two OWP teachers we met were Chrysanthius Lathan and her former professor, Thomas McKenna. According to Chrysanthius, she began standing up for herself in class as a result of her brief interaction with Tom six years ago.
At the time, Chrysanthius was working toward her Master’s degree in education. On the first day of Tom’s class, Chrysanthius was a few minutes late and was greeted by a sea of white faces. “I know it’s a stereotype, but I was late because I had to do my daughter’s hair before going to class. I walked in, looked around, and thought, ‘Even though I have something to say, I’m just going to keep my head down, keep quiet, get a B, and get through this class.’” When the students broke into small groups for discussion, Chrysanthius kept to her plan.
But Tom approached her and said, “You know, I think you’ve got something to say.” After that, Chrysanthius began speaking up not only for her ideas but for herself as well. Her classmates had been mispronouncing her name, and she decided not to let it slide anymore. “I sat them down, and I said, ‘We’re going to learn how to pronounce my name. It’s only four syllables: Chrys-an-thi-us.’ And then I made them practice saying it until everyone could say my name.”
Tom remembered that day too and had been curious about what sparked the need in Chrysanthius to stand up for herself in his classroom. “Just that you noticed me and recognized me,” she told Tom. “No teacher had ever done that before.”