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.
In Indianapolis, Indiana, Dan Taylor, who is affiliated with Teach Plus Indianapolis, recorded a StoryCorps interview with Aaron Wallace, 13. Aaron was Dan’s student at the Tindley School last school year. At Tindley, Aaron and other students attended Saturday school with Dan whenever he thought they needed extra attention.
Dan and Aaron talked about Dan’s teaching, which Aaron says is “strict but fun.” Dan confessed that he tries to emulate the teaching style of his 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Lewis, who sang and danced in her classroom. Dan says that with Mrs. Lewis, “every day in the classroom felt like an educational Mardi Gras.”
Toward the end of their interview, Aaron told his former teacher of the difference his methods have made in his life. Aaron used to have trouble with reading and writing, but teachers like Dan have helped him make progress. Aaron recalled Saturdays spent in Dan’s classroom playing learning games, which have fueled his desire to become an engineer. Dan told Aaron that “caring and work make a great classroom.”
StoryCorps Facilitator Gaspar Caro and I traveled to St. Louis, Missouri, as part of the National Teacher’s Initiative to record the stories of public school teachers and students in the area. St. Louis is one of 20 cities participating in the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s American Graduate Initiative, a multifaceted initiative focused on building the knowledge, understanding, collaboration and resources required to improve high school graduation rates.
We had the pleasure of spending one day at Shearwater High School, an alternative school that helps students attain their high school diplomas and prepares them for college. Walking through the hallways of Shearwater, you are greeted with hand-painted signs of uplifting messages, like “Life is what you make it.” It is a place where young people who have faced serious obstacles in their education come for a second chance.
StoryCorps’ National Teacher Initiative took me and my co-facilitator, Naomi Greene, to St. Louis, Missouri, to record with public school teachers. During our stay, Gateway Institute of Technology High School Principal Beth Bender recorded with her friend, co-worker, and fellow teacher, Amy Horton.
After sharing stories about her childhood and school day memories, Beth broached the elephant in many classrooms and school hallways: sexual orientation. In doing so, she described the importance of strong student-staff relationships and the challenges she has faced as a principal who is also a lesbian.
Facilitator Yazmín Peña and I traveled to Chicago, Illinois, to visit The New Teacher Project, where we recorded stories of new and experienced teachers of Chicago Public Schools. Among our recent StoryCorps recruits was Arelys Villeda, who invited her former 8th-grade teacher, George Drase, to participate in a conversation.
To kick off their talk, George asked Arelys why she became a teacher. She smiled coyly at her former teacher and said, “I’ve always loved school supplies.”
But of course, there is more to the story than that.
The Record Street Home in Frederick, Maryland, is a very special place. In continuous operation for over a century, this home for older women was established in a three-story red brick house just steps from the town hall that President Abraham Lincoln visited after the Civil War. Today, the 19 residents of Record Street Home participate in a thriving community where, according to resident Eloise Grove, age 83, they “are waited on hand and foot.”
Board members at the Record Street Home contribute to that loving care. Every year, board members are matched as “Big Sisters” to individual residents, and over the years these pairs have developed close friendships. Several “Little Sisters,” all in their 80′s and 90′s, were interviewed by their Record Street “Big Sisters” during StoryCorps Door-to-Door’s visit on Veteran’s Day. Most of these conversations focused on the women’s experiences and memories of World War II.
Amidst a sea of young adult books, language arts textbooks, and teachers from all parts of Florida, two English teachers sat down for conversations with the mentor-professors who trained them in graduate school. They came to record their stories for StoryCorps’ National Teachers’ Initiative, which celebrates the brilliant and courageous work of teachers around the country. StoryCorps partnered with the Florida Council of Teachers of English (FCTE) to record for two days at its annual conference in Orlando, Florida.
Cari L. Sadler, who had just completed her seventh week as a teacher, interviewed Joan F. Kaywell, her professor at the University of South Florida (USF) College of Education. Joan told Cari about her relationship with her mentor, Ted Hipple, and described the Ted Hipple Young Adult Literature Collection, a collection of autographed YA books that she started to honor Ted after his death. Cari pointed out that Joan honors Ted the most by passing onto her students the support and respect that he gave to her. Cari confessed that while Joan intimidated her early on, she is now inspired to maintain academic rigor by Joan’s example and teaching.
Middle Tennessee State University commemorated its centennial by hosting StoryCorps in Murfreesboro, TN, during homecoming. John Harris and Laurie Witherow, friends and coworkers at MTSU, recorded an interview during our visit.
John was born blind and still has limited sensitivity to light. Growing up in Munford, TN, near Memphis, his family did not know of a school for children who were blind. So, John spent most of his early childhood and pre-adolescent days playing in the front yard with his grandfather. They listened to Brooklyn Dodgers games over the radio together, and John followed the sportscaster’s descriptions while he pitched rocks to himself, swinging at them with a broomstick. When it connected with the rock, John finished out the play and took bases along with the Dodger hitters on the broadcast.