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A Student Who Changed My Entire Approach to Teaching

Marcy Leonard, HCPSS Community Superintendent

A student's perspective significantly altered the way this young teacher viewed her role as an educator and ultimately led to many years of providing opportunities for all students.

Video Transcript

There have been thousands of students that have impacted me. One that I probably learned one of the greatest lessons from was Amber.

It was my fourth or fifth year of teaching but it was my second year of teaching Advanced Placement Government and Politics. I thought that since I was teaching Advanced Placement, I needed to make sure it was a really rigorous college preparatory class. I was going to make sure that every student that came into the class was going to have the background that they needed in order to be successful because my job was to make sure that they were going to be ready for college by the time they finished the course. So, I required students to read books over the summer, and I gave really challenging essays and tests in the first month of class because I wanted to make sure that every student that was in that class really “belonged” there.

So that second year, there’s a student that I met with after the first month, Amber - who is African American and female - and I said “Amber, I’m really worried about your ability to be successful in this course. You saw your grade on the first essay, and your first couple of test grades haven’t been very good and I’m not sure you’re really going to be able to earn the grade that you may want in this course.” And Amber said “Ms. Leonard, I know I might get a C or worse in this course but I know this course is going to prepare me for college, so I’d like to stay.” And then she told me the story of her family.

When she left school each day, she went and helped out in her family’s business. They cleaned office buildings at night. So, she was spending her day doing the academics and at night working for her family business and doing all of the homework for all of the rigorous courses that she was challenging herself with.

That conversation with Amber was really eye-opening for me in terms of what steps I was taking as an educator.

When I thought that I was creating opportunities for kids, I really was closing doors. It wasn’t my job to determine who “belonged” or “didn’t belong” in a class that may or may not be challenging for them. Really, my job was to open as many doors as possible for any student, regardless of their background and regardless of their educational experiences so far. In fact, I should be throwing those doors wide open and providing the supports that the students needed in order to be successful in that class.

So, it’s really my conversation with Amber that hopefully helped me move from being a gatekeeper to a door opener, and that has informed a lot of the the work that I’ve done since then.

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Profile headshot of Dr. Michael J. Martirano

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