Cheryl teaches 9th grade English at Travis. It’s Ft. Bend’s newest high school and in the spring of 2009, graduated its first class. Cheryl’s students are the “gifted and talented” and she says they make her a better teacher. She also says the work is truly rewarding.
Cheryl’s essay was born out of an assignment given to her class. Each incoming freshmen class is assigned to read the classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird and during that process, she wants each student to learn more than just the plot and the characters roles. She wants each student to really take something special away from the famous story. So, Cheryl played a couple of This I Believe essays for the students to give them an idea of how a personal essay is structured. Then she asked them to think about this while reading the book and to be prepared to write their own essay. Cheryl wrote her essay as an example for the students, showing them how a personal narrative could tell a powerful story.
Cheryl’s work is now presented as the latest entry in our on-going broadcast series, KUHF’s This I Believe.
“I am a high school English teacher. I teach students who represent points all along the spectrum of ethnicity, religion, and socio-economic class. Some live in half-million dollar homes, and others are homeless. Most value the opportunity they have at a top-notch education, but unfortunately, many kids who need it most don’t appreciate how a love of learning can lift them up…can break the vicious cycle of low expectations and failure. I believe the literature we read can reach every student in my class on a personal level and can enrich, maybe even change their lives.
Each fall, with new freshmen, we explore the classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. I relish the challenge and the opportunity. And the bellyaching begins as I hand out books.
‘Two hundred eighty-one pages?’ followed by, ‘I’m so gonna rent the movie…’
We research the economic, social, and political world of the South during the Great Depression. My kids are sure this has nothing to do with them. Then someone asks, ‘Are we in a depression right now?’ and personal accounts of friends and neighbors losing jobs and homes come from all corners of the classroom.
The existence of racism in a supposedly post-racist society begs questions about whether our country has really evolved at all. Every student has a story. As Scout and Jem try to make sense of their world, so do the kids in my class as they ‘climb into a character’s skin and walk around in it.’ Atticus Finch’s wisdom, his commitment to peace, and to teaching his children by living his principles are as relevant today as the day Harper Lee wrote the novel. I hope that by the time we finish the book my students have true empathy for Tom Robinson and for Boo Radley. I hope every student will show kindness to the mockingbirds they will invariably encounter in their own lives.
After fourteen years of teaching, I see new purpose in what I do. Guiding and challenging students to develop their skills with written language is an important part of my job.
I believe in the power of literature. Art holds up a mirror—whether favorably or unfavorably—to its audience, and defies them to question aspects of their own lives.
I believe literature offers a chance to explore the connections that bind all people.”