The philosophy of Teaching Saves Lives came out of a group of students I encountered during my 14th year as a teacher. I had recently moved to a tiny, rural school and was handed the only section of Senior English. This was a class that had typically been viewed by students as a “blow off”. That belief, coupled with my newness to the school, plus a lot of mistrust and skepticism on their part regarding education in general, progressive curriculum, SEL work and judgment of dramatic changes in their school, gave way to a perfect storm of discomfort.
After I explained the syllabus on the first day, one student (who, in my mind, appeared to be about 6'6 and 300 lbs of muscle) raised his hand and with an arrogant tone asked, "Yeah, are we going to have assigned seats all year?" When he got the answer he didn't like, he rolled his eyes, muttered under his breath, and his whole table group burst into laughter.
That pretty much set the tone.
As the year went on, I felt crippled. I couldn’t teach them the things I knew they needed. They resisted and resisted for months; they were mean, disrespectful, hurtful towards each other, and the vibes were really, really difficult. Finally, about halfway through the year, I took a weekend and really contemplated this group. I knew I could win them over, but I didn’t know how...so I started with the basics, the ultimate way to win over any group of teenagers: food. I began to hold Class Meetings on Mondays with them. The approach was simple--sit in a circle, start with a whip around question, make them write in their notebooks, give them topics that were relevant to their lives, and pass a plate of cookies around for them to munch on, close the meeting with a Compliment Circle. The first meeting was awkward...the second one was better...and then the third...and by the end of the year, kids were begging for Class Meetings and not even worrying about the food. It was so simple--just talk. Just look one another in the eye, and share, and trust.
This class, though, changed me. There were 4 students specifically in this class who helped me develop my concept of Teaching Saves Lives. I’ll write about each of them in the blog as this site grows, but each one of them not only let me show them that education can change the trajectory of their lives, but they also truly saved MY life as an educator.
Through their quiet, or sometimes, loud ways, they reminded me that being a teacher is the best and most amazing opportunity we can be offered as professionals. They helped me see that teaching is a life changing profession and that humans can change through education. They shined a light for me that had been dim for years, and they reminded me that being a teacher was the one and only thing I should be doing.
Educational access and empowerment is something we should want for all of our students, but also for all of our teachers too. It's time to elevate the teaching profession back to what it is--a profession that takes intense work, impassioned focus, reflective practice, and continued education. It's time to stop worrying about our cute classroom decor and start having the conversations that will move kids to be better humans in a strange and unsafe world. Teaching Saves Lives is about using education to provide access to students who might otherwise be left behind due to circumstances beyond their control, and it's about pushing a community of teachers to stand against these systems of oppression that prevent us from doing the work we need to do to improve education in our country.