Getting at the heart of teaching: Lisa Lee at TEDxCrestmoorParkED

Getting at the heart of teaching: Lisa Lee at TEDxCrestmoorParkED

November 21, 2019 56 By Stanley Isaacs


Translator: caterina minasso
Reviewer: Ingrid Lezar Are you ready to get started? (Audience) Yes, we are. Don’t need to do that again. I’ve been teaching for over 26 years. Long enough to have moved from, “Ms Lee, you’re like my favorite auntie” to “Ms Lee, you’re my second mom.” Then it became, “Ms Lee,
you’re like my grandma.” I didn’t mind so much, because I already played one
in real life, right? Well recently,
you know where this is going, I met the family
of one of my new students. The next day, she came in – I love Photoshop, this picture. (Laughter) She came in and said, “You know, my parents said you remind them of my great-grandmother.” (Laughter) So, after I picked myself up off the floor I said, “Um, why?” And she said, “Well,
she lives in Louisiana.” I’m like, I’m from Georgia, I get that. “And she plays tennis.” I’m obviously in great shape,
so, I get that. “She’s really funny.” Not as funny as me,
but OK I’ll go with that. “And she lives on a gator farm.” I suddenly realized
I can relate to that too, because I teach middle school. (Laughter) Yes, for the last 11 years I’ve been a teacher
of what I call, lovingly, hormones with legs. (Laughter) And I taught, before that,
elementary school for many years and never planned on my shadow
darkening the doorway of a middle school classroom. So, I was asked as a favor,
to interview for my first job. And I got there and the principal said, “I don’t know why HR sent you; you’re not even certified
for middle school.” I said, “I know, right?
And I don’t even like them!” She laughed, kind of, and then I said, “I think you should
pepper spray them once a day, they’ll need it sooner or later.” And, after she picked herself up off
the floor from laughter, she said, “You’re going to be perfect
for my students.” But, really I disagree with her, because they turned out
to be so perfect for me. (Applause) I know there’s lots of people
like educators, teachers in the audience – show me where you are,
people that work with kids. Thank you for being here. I know some of you are still pretty new and maybe you haven’t even lived
as long as I’ve taught. But I realize there are young people here. I have a secret
I don’t usually tell people. Have you figured out
there’s a lot of meetings in education? I often say to myself – but not out loud – I hope I pass on in one of those meetings, because the transition would be so subtle,
I wouldn’t even know it had happened. (Laughter) I don’t say that very often. But, I do truly believe
that what we are doing is the most important thing in the world. John Steinbeck writes
about teachers, and he says: “I have come to believe
a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few
as there are any other great artists. In fact, teaching is – not may be – is
‘the greatest of the arts’ because the medium is
the human mind and spirit.” (Applause) And then Steinbeck writes: “Three real teachers in a lifetime
is the very best of luck.” I’m here to tell you that I know
the importance of those real teachers. And not just because I’m standing
in this position as a teacher today but because of what teachers meant to me. I grew up in a small Georgia town, where your Sunday school teacher
was likely to be at school the next day as your social studies teacher. And, in that little tiny southern town, there walked the most
fine group of educators that have ever lived on this planet. From my early years on, those men and women
taught me so much. Mostly outside the curriculum. They taught me
that I had value as a person and that I mattered. They saw me as an individual, and they saw something in me
that they believed in and made me believe in as well. Their classrooms were places
of safety and security. When I was a junior
in high school, my mom died. And the evening after her funeral, I was sitting and reading
her obituary, over and over. The reality of a life without my mom
was just starting to sink in, hard. The door opened and my math teacher walked in. This is another secret
I don’t usually tell my students, but I was I really rotten math student and that didn’t matter. She didn’t see me as a number or a score that would increase her overall rating
somewhere down the line. She saw me as a person. And she came over
and she just held me in her arms. It was teachers who took me
to grocery shop for my family, when I didn’t have any idea
how to do that, because I was the oldest. They took me to buy my prom dress. I went on family vacations with them. I was welcomed in their homes,
through college, past college. And today lots of them
are my Facebook friends, because we’re still cool like that. (Laughter) Steinbeck says many things about teachers, but this one little phrase resonates
with me more than any other: “If you are very lucky,
you may find a teacher.” Well, I was a recipient
of so much good fortune then. And guess what? It’s continued on in my children, for 26-plus years. I have learned one thing: no matter who I teach, the age, children are children, and they teach me more every day
than I could ever hope to impart to them. For instance: (Applause) You wanted to hear that, right? For instance, they’ve taught me that show and tell is important,
regardless of the age. It could be a missing tooth
or it might be a new piercing that the parents
don’t even know about yet. But it’s important, because they’re seen as individuals
and who they are. I’ve learned from my children that dramatic play can be just as important to an 8th grader
as it is to a kindergartner. Because, I think, it’s really a safe way
of figuring out who they are in the world. And let me tell you something,
if you don’t believe this, then… Humor! I’ve learned about humor from my children. I have learned when I ask a kindergartner
to flip off the projector, middle schoolers do something different. (Laughter) Firsthand! I have learned that when a kindergartner
writes me a little note, saying, “Ooh, Ms Lee, you’re the best teacher in the world!” It’s the same thing
as a middle schooler saying, “Man, Ms Lee, you are the beast!” It means that they know I see them. I’ve also learned that praise matters,
regardless of the age. I have some students,
who’d be mortified with much attention, so a thumbs-up is enough. I have others who, when I say this,
they stand and cheer with me: “G-O-O-D J-O-B, good job (Clap, Clap),
good job (Clap, Clap).” You know you want to do it
with me, ready? G-O-O-D (Audience repeats)
J-O-B (Audience repeats), good job (Audience repeats),
clap clap (Audience claps). Oh good, I thought
you were going to say it. That’s a good audience,
a gifted audience – good job! Now together: G-O-O-D J-O-B, good job (Clap, Clap),
good job (Clap, Clap). Thank you. Good job! Steinbeck writes about his three teachers. He says: “My three had this in common: They all loved what they were doing. Under their influence
the horizons sprung wide and fear went away and the unknown became knowable.” I realize that there are people listening
and in the audience not in education. Bless your heart. I feel so sorry for you. I truly do! But in spite of our differences,
we have that one common denominator: the Common Core. You know that’s the buzzword
in education today: the Common Core. But it’s 2013, people! My students have taught me
about the common core since 1987. They’ve taught me that
if I reach the common core first, the Common Core
is much more easily taught. I believe we all as humans have that need to be valued, respected, and accepted,
and seen as who we are. That common core
that we all have, every one of us. So yes, we do stand alone
in our uniqueness, but we’re part of a team. Sometimes we’re the star, sometimes we have a supporting role, other times we’re in the audience. But regardless of our role,
the important thing is that we are seen and valued
for who we are and what we do. Education reforms
are going to come and go. Common Core is likely to be called
something else in ten years. But the common core
has been here since time began. And I’m here to tell you people, that is why, after 26 years of education,
teaching in education, I am still thriving! (Applause) And that is why you young teachers
can thrive for 26 ahead of you – I’m looking forward to a whole lot more. Because I am able to see
that core in my students and they find it in me every time. Now, I’ll leave you with this. And, at the risk of sounding like
a Hallmark card with a southern accent, I want to tell you,
I believe this is true with all my heart: every single person has the capacity
to make a difference. Now, won’t you do this with me? Touch here, and I’m a middle school teacher,
I can wait if you’re not all doing it. I have lots of patience. Now, just look around. Every single person in this room
has that inner core, y’all. And when we remember that, when we remember that inner core
of everyone around us, that is when real change, acceptance,
and learning can occur. Life and learning
doesn’t start here [head]; it starts right here [heart]. You try it. I dare you. Are you ready to get started? (Audience) Yes, we are. Thank you. Love you. (Applause)