WorkersWrite engaged in a project with City Lore called “A Life Well Crafted” to engage students in three New York City public schools to explore contributions of community activists and artists to their neighborhoods and city.
The program was inspired by the Clara Lemlich Awards given each year by Labor Arts and the National Writers United Service Organization, otherwise known as WorkersWrite, honoring women activists. The award is named for Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian Jewish immigrant who as a leader of the massive strike by shirtwaist workers in 1909, and by City Lore’s People’s Hall of Fame, honoring individuals who jave made a lasting contribution to cultural life.
Students worked with teaching artists to interview Lemlich and City Lore honorees, created portraits through song and spoken word poetry with some public events for families and neighbors.
Some of the songs and poetry are captured here and there is more information for teachers here
The project helped our organization to establish a partnership with City Lore that enabled us to achieve our goal of bringing our Clara Lemlich honorees and other community based activists to the city’s public schools. It also helped us to achieve our goal of raising students’ awareness of the important roles that artists and local activists play in community life and how the arts can be a powerful tool for civic engagement and social change. Students also learned about their guests’ career paths and how they used their art to serve a greater good.
Barry Mernin, Hong Kong International School
“Most of us end up with no more than five or six people who remember us. Teachers have thousands of people who remember them for the rest of their lives.”
“I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.”
I have been teaching for 23 years in Maryland, Singapore and Japan and now teach 4th grade students in Hong Kong. It has been a wonderful ride.
In 1985, I enrolled as an elementary education major at Bridgewater State College in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. Initially I merely wanted to help struggling kids find success in the classroom. As a high school senior, I was an intern in a classroom of learning-disabled elementary-aged children. Within the first week of my internship, I knew I had found my calling, and I have lived a life of learning and teaching ever since.
By Ryan Steuer, Decautur Middle School, Indianapolis
Ryan Steuer working with his students.
I teach because the news is depressing. When you turn on the news or read the paper, you see crime, murder, and poverty running unchecked. For every triple homicide, suicide or theft in the news, some young person you don’t hear about is directly affected by it.
The young man who was gunned down on the east side? That was Jimmy’s cousin.
That veteran with PTSD who went a little nuts last week? He’s Alice’s older brother.
Oh, and that crazy woman who went to jail for stabbing her husband? Well, that means that Tricia now lives with her grandmother, the one who drinks heavily.
But the world doesn’t really care about what is going on, and so we expect Jimmy, Alice and Tricia, all of them just 14, to pay attention to their teachers, do well on standardized tests, graduate, get jobs and raise families. Not likely, not unless we offer help.
By Alysia D’Urso, Central High School, Providence, RI
As I was winding up my third year in the classroom, I sometimes caught myself wondering why I continue to teach. My reason for becoming a teacher seemed to get lost, or at least overwhelmed, by the daily grind of trivia that is a big part of the world of teaching. I certainly did not become a teacher so that I could drown in piles of papers, or pound my fists in frustration at copier machines that won’t make copies, or tell–again and again–some 14-year-old boys to stop making animal noises in the halls. And I didn’t become a teacher so I could work in my classroom until 7:00 PM but get paid until 3:05 PM.
I came to the classroom to make a difference, but how do I know if I am? When I lose sight of the big picture, I visit a wonderful colleague, Stan. Stan has been teaching for over 15 years and–ironically after over a decade of this stress–he looks 10 years younger than most people would guess. When I am in a crabby mood, Stan hands me a Halls cough drop and suggests that I read the wrapper because, just like fortune cookies, each cough drop shares a few words of motivation with its consumer. Unwrapping the medicated candy, he reads, “Be unstoppable,” “Don’t wait a precious minute” or “Conquer today.”
By Joseph Murphy, Vanderbilt University
To unsettle and alloy that bewilderment with joy
To allow flight and provide an unseen scaffolding
To hold tightly while letting go
To correct with precision and warmth
To reveal mysteries and provide ladders for
climbing to understanding
To challenge, to exhort, to demand
To push, to pull, to carry
To build, to empower
To respect and acknowledge, to ennoble
To place one’s own heart on the altar and one’s
own hands in the fire
To remember the forgotten
To feel, to share
To dance in celebration
To pass into the shadows
Reprinted with permission from Education Week.
By Melissa Bowers
School is going on right now. MY classes are in session, right this very instant, and I am not there.
I am not a teacher anymore.
Maybe if I say it another eighty-seven times, it will finally sink in. Because right now, I definitely still feel like I have stacks of essays on a desk somewhere, and last night while I was grocery shopping I kept thinking about what I’d need to pack my lunch. But I’m not a teacher anymore. My last day was Friday.
The weird thing is, I leave teaching once a year, every June. We spend days tying up loose ends, we post grades and clean our rooms, and we go home for two months of summer and come back to a brand new batch of kids. Summer feels free and delicious, at least for the first few weeks (or until we start our summer jobs, or attend conferences and classes, or start planning for the following school year). You feel a little lighter when you close your classroom door and leave in June. I expected it might feel something like that — maybe times a thousand. But it doesn’t.
By Grete DeAngelo
I don’t do it for the money. So many students tell me, “I don’t know what I want to do, but I want to make a lot of money.” Well, the money won’t mean much if there’s no meaning in what you do.
I don’t do it for the recognition. A lot of days, I only get recognized for being a taskmaster. My students have straight-out asked me, “If you have a master’s degree from a great school, what are you doing teaching?”
By Rowlanda Cawthon, Northwest University
Simon Sinek, a well-known TEDx speaker, coined the phrase, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” For the past year, I’ve thought considerably about “why” I teach and the impact that teaching has had on my life and on the lives of those I serve. What I’ve learned is that there is much more to teaching than simply developing curriculum, lecturing, and grading assignments.
Undoubtedly, my “why” is inspired by experiences I had with an exceptional educator. It was the caring words and actions of a teacher that played a role in the personal and professional transformation I experienced during a pivotal period in my life. Because of his encouragement, after an eleven-year career with the Department of Corrections, I faithfully transitioned to higher education to teach full-time. It’s worth noting that this teacher also inspired me to pursue a doctoral degree, a goal that for some reason I believed was unattainable. His belief in me and his willingness to serve as my mentor throughout my doctoral journey helped me accomplish this goal. Given my experiences, I know that the implications of teaching extend far beyond the classroom.
By Rita DiCarne
The past few years have been tough on Catholic school teachers with the closing of schools and the reduction of teaching staff. Many of my non-teaching friends encouraged me to leave the profession and “recreate” myself like all the popular magazines suggest. One friend in particular asked me, “What else do you see yourself doing?” My response was silence. I just couldn’t come up with a single thing – not one.
You see, I teach for selfish reasons. Teaching gives me permission to be a life-long learner, to read and write and share my passions with my students. It challenges me to be the best me I can be and in turn encourage my students to be their best selves. Teaching keeps me young at heart and mind through my daily interactions with students and gives me the chance to see the world through their eyes. They teach me as much or even more than I hope they are learning in our classroom.