Making an Impact

This past week was Teacher Appreciation Week, and in honor of it, I am posting something I wrote about my current English teacher, Mr. Theriault.  He is the reason I started blogging in the first place, and I couldn’t be more grateful to him for forcing me to do so.

“Young lady, do you need to change seats?” It was the first day of school my sophomore year, and I had completely forgotten to bring lined paper.  I had quietly turned around to my friend sitting behind me to ask for a spare sheet so I could write our essay on the assigned reading we had over the summer.  I was in shock and intimidated that I was scolded for asking for a piece of paper, especially on the first day of school.  I was so scared of my new English teacher that I left class that day thinking, “Okay, breathe and relax, if it doesn’t get better, you can always switch to another class.”

Switching to another class would have been one of the biggest mistakes in my academic career, if not my life.  I know it seems cliché, but it is true. I would have missed out on having an extraordinary teacher who does not just teach English, but teaches life.   Shortly into the school year, amidst his ridiculously hard bi-weekly quizzes, he told us, “I am going to grade you on your effort in this class.  The standard measures of competence and effort [by tests and quizzes] will have less value in my class; not so you can slack off, but so you can stretch yourselves to new levels without fear of damaging your grade because of it.”  Though his class is one of the most challenging classes I have had, it is addicting; there are too many days in which I walk out of his classroom, wishing I could stay in English all day, thinking “This is way more worthwhile and meaningful than any of my other classes.”

It was in his class that I first learned how to properly read and annotate a book and was able to enjoy analyzing the syntax of Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities.  It was in his class, that student presentations became something to look forward to, instead of a waste of a class period, as more often than not, they came with goodies and plenty of audience interaction which kept it interesting.  It is in his class, and really only in his class, that I feel completely at home.

The wheels are always turning in Mr. Theriault’s head, thinking of how to make himself a better teacher, his lessons more fruitful, keep students more engaged, and how to make education less daunting.  He is never afraid to share what he is working on with his students as well as the rest of the world through his blog and Twitter.  Mr. Theriault has taught his students to share their work and thoughts, by assigning weekly blogging and a twenty percent project every year.  Through blogging, I have written more this past year than ever before in the entirety of my high school career altogether.  He has given us the freedom to develop our own voice, something that is so hard to teach, yet so critical for higher level writing.

Mr. Theriault is one of the only teachers I have encountered that will take time out of his class period, his precious fifty-four minutes of teaching time, to ask how students are doing.  He will ask about the sports events that he couldn’t make it to and other school related topics, but he will also ask students how they are doing personally.  If he sees that someone seems down, sick, or just exhausted, the first thing he says is, “Is there anything I can do to make your day better?”.  From chocolate and hot tea to sharing half of his lunch, he is always there for his students.  He realizes that sometimes his class isn’t the most important thing in our lives, and that our overall well-being is much more important than anything he could teach in an hour. He genuinely cares for his students.

I have been blessed to have Mr. Theriault as my English teacher both sophomore and senior year.  As the number of days left until graduation dwindles down, it is a bittersweet feeling; the excitement of graduation and college combined with the sad realization that my time in Mr. Theriault’s class is coming to an end.  I can see why he always has college students coming back to visit him; days in his class are treasured memories and visiting him brings them all back.  Mr. Theriault makes a huge impact on student’s lives every year, and I can only dream of a world in which all teachers were as committed, caring, and compassionate as he is.

"Mr. Theriault, can we take a picture?" "Sure, how do you want to do this? Selfie style?" "Okay" He laughs. "I never take selfies" Personally, I think this one turned out great.
“Mr. Theriault, can we take a picture?”
“Sure, how do you want to do this? Selfie style?”
“Okay”
He laughs. “I never take selfies”
Personally, I think this one turned out great.

 

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Editing Videos Might be the Death of Me

We finally finished another Breakfast with Champions video this past week! Oh my goodness, both Erica and I never knew how long and tedious editing was.  We spent at least eight hours editing this video and by the end of it, we didn’t even want to look at the final product. I wonder if that is how filmmakers feel at the premier of their movies…  Anyway, we are super excited to have finished it and are excited to share it with the world.  Without further ado, here is an interview with Jack White, Vietnam Veteran.

Breakfast with Champions

In a previous post, I wrote about the twenty percent projects that my teacher has implemented in his classroom for the past couple of years.  This past Friday, my project began.

Let me tell you a little about it and what I have learned so far.

old car+mr h
Photo from OC Register Article by Mackenzie Reiss

This is Demetrius Harakas.  He owns the Fantastic Cafe in Santa Ana and is opening a new restaurant in Seal Beach in a couple of weeks.  He loves the 50’s and his diner is decorated in just that fashion.  He had searched for a car like the one above, for almost all his life.

His relatives in Massachusetts found one for him, he bought it, and then had it shipped to California.  He had it restored and now, for the past eight months he has picked up WWII veterans from their homes and taking them to the restaurant for a free breakfast and an eager ear to talk to.  As of now, he estimates that he has taken 70 WWII vets and their spouses to breakfast.

charlie
Photo from OC Register Article by Mackenzie Reiss.

When he first brought his car home, and told my family and I his idea; I was amazed.  I thought, “What a cool experience for both him and the veteran”, but never thought anything more of it.  It wasn’t until we were given the assignment to “Find a need in the community, and feed it” that I came up with the idea of producing videos of Demetrius’ time with the veterans.  I knew that he wasn’t documenting them, except by personal journal, and I thought, “Man, that would be so cool to film.”  Especially, because in school we learn the factual history.  Though teachers try to use videos of firsthand accounts, we mainly have to learn facts: dates, names, and places.  How awesome would it be to have first hand filmed conversations with the veterans, available to everyone around the world?

So, I found a friend, brainstormed, pitched our idea to the film production class at our school and found someone to teach us to film.  Friday was our first day of filming, and it was such a great experience.  My two partners and I were able to sit down with a navy corpsman named Jim, who served in WWII, Vietnam, and Korea.  He was in the service for 24 years and had at least 30 medals on his lapel.  He was at the rank of master chief, with his official title being, master chief petty officer.

We learned so many interesting things from him, and his stories made history come alive for us.  That is exactly what we hope to accomplish in our project; to make history come alive for generations to come, when there are no more WWII vets to tell about it.  Did you know that WWII veterans are dying currently at a rate of 600 a day?  We want to preserve their accounts and stories before they are all gone, and become mere reenactment and guesswork.

If you are interested in seeing our progress, check out our blog:

www.breakfastwithchampions.wordpress.com

And take a look at our introductory video!

There you can nominate a veteran for a breakfast, providing the veteran lives in Orange County, California!  Thanks!

I’m not Going to Prepare you for College

old teacher

“I’m not going to prepare you for college.  Even though you are in an AP Senior English class, we will not be focusing on preparing for college” stated my teacher on the first day of school.  He went on to explain that for far too long, teachers have focused so much on the preparation for college that the students never accomplish anything except prepping for college.  We end up spending too much time planning for a future time instead of living in the present.   He talked about how many of his students have had parents pass away before they graduate high school and even the students he has taught who have died before graduation.  Those people are what motivates him to not teach us in preparation for another time in our lives.   We don’t know when it will be our turn to die, so he wants us accomplishing this year not prepping to accomplish.

His philosophy, originally, made me nervous.  I was afraid about being prepared to pass the AP test and being ready for college classes.  But then I stopped to really think about what he was saying and it all made sense.  I have at least seven friends whose parents have been deathly ill, whether by cancer or other means, just in high school.  The heartbreaking part is that more than half of my friend’s parents died.  I know two students who are battling sickness with their life on the line. I don’t want to be taught how to be prepared for college, I need to be taught about doing important things now and not waiting until I’m older.  Young people can do amazing things.  Just look at the sixteen year old girl who is speaking out about girl’s education in the Middle East even after the Taliban tried to assassinate her a year ago.  Malala Yousafzai, had been speaking out on the issue since she was eleven years old.  Can you imagine the courage it takes to speak with such an influence that the Taliban plots an assassination attempt on her?  And people listened!  No one speaks for that long without a big audience!  Young people can do big things, if they find a need that the are passionate about and decide to do something about it.  Probably the biggest thing that holds them back, is not having enough time.  What a shame to let passionate young people squander the time they would love to devote to their passion in busy work and pointless projects.

There has been a rise of twenty percent projects throughout schools in America.  Basically, the student is able to choose what they will do for their project, knowing that it has to be big enough to be worth twenty percent of their grade.  Most teachers don’t care if the project floats or sinks, as long as the student did everything they could to make it work, troubleshot, and learned lessons from it.

I am a huge fan of the twenty percent project.  It gave me the chance to resume work in the organization that I co-founded called Give a Smile Association.  I never thought I would have time to continue my efforts with it, until I was given the opportunity to do a twenty percent project. My friend and I founded the organization in fifth grade, after I went to see my grandpa in stroke rehab and saw the joy that my family indirectly brought to a woman in the stroke ward who seemed to have no one.  She would come into the visiting room every time we were there, and smile at our interactions with my grandpa.  She had been in the stroke center for longer, but my grandpa was doing better at his rehab.  I hypothesized that feeling loved and cared about leads to quicker recovery, shared my theory with my friend and thus Give a Smile was born.  We would spend the whole time at sleepovers making handmade cards that let patients know someone cared about them.  We went to my school and helped the younger kids make cards.  In all, we probably had delivered 300 cards.  For my twenty percent project, I made a goal of having 1,500 cards made in a month and a half.  I emailed all the teachers at my high school asking for their participation.  I got around 25 replies.  That may seem like a lot, but for a school with 200 teachers, I was a little disappointed.  Still, I persevered.  I ended up collecting just over 3,500 cards from those 25 teachers.  I was in awe of all the cards that had been made.  I was able to touch 3,500 lives for the better with a twenty percent project.

The twenty percent project’s goal wasn’t “preparing me for college”, but it did better than almost any other way I could imagine. It taught me communication, time management, organization, letter writing, and a host of other skills that are necessary not only for college but for life in general.  So long live classes that teach life skills with college readiness on the side.  They are the class of the future, for sure.