Facilitator John White and I visited North Lawndale College Preparatory Charter High School‘s Collins campus in Chicago, Illinois, to collect stories for StoryCorps’ National Teachers Initiative. The school’s president, John Horan, and alum Tierra S. Jackson joined us for a conversation.
Tierra has an easy smile, and if you struggle with pronouncing her name, she’ll simply say, “Think of a tiara.” If that word has you thinking of royalty and princesses, such a life couldn’t be further from Tierra’s while she was in high school.
StoryCorps Door-to-Door traveled to the Windy City to record stories of teachers, staff members, and students at EPIC Academy Charter High School. The school’s student body consists of teens living in South Chicago. EPIC prepares their students for college and beyond through a rigorous and diverse curriculum. The school can be challenging, especially for students dealing with difficult issues in their personal lives.
Despite this, teachers and staff still expect the best of their students because some of them know well what their students deal with at home. During our three days with EPIC, Dean of Students Danny Rivera sat down with his coworker, Andre Golston, to talk about the obstacles he faced growing up in Chicago.
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.”
Tom and Jean Gaunt recorded a StoryCorps interview in Indianapolis, Indiana, in partnership with The New Teacher Project and Indianapolis Teaching Fellows. Jean shared that teaching had been a lifelong interest she put off while raising a family. At 55 years old, though, she realized that her experience raising their children and foster children was a crucial asset in her goal of becoming a teacher.
When Jean was accepted by ITF, she worried that she would not connect with her mostly African-American, special education students. However, during her first year year in the classroom, Jean quickly learned the power of playfulness on her students.