Chalkboard Champions and Hurricane Harvey: Wading into Rising Waters

As empathetic Americans look for ways to help fellow citizens forced to cope with the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, Texas teachers are undoubtedly wondering what they can do to help ease the distress of their precious kids when they return to the classroom.

As usual when I hear news stories about storm damage, I am reminded of a book I read which tells the tale of a remarkable teacher who opened a school for New Orleans evacuees following Hurricane Katrina.

When surging flood waters from Hurricane Katrina forced thousands of families to flee from their homes, New Orleans residents had their minds more on survival than on whether their children would be missing school. But when a group of evacuee parents who landed in New Iberia, Louisiana, realized they would not be returning to their homes any time soon, they knew they had to find a strategy to help their children cope with their enforced and unexpected exile. They pooled their financial resources and hired a fellow refugee, teacher Paul Reynaud, to establish a one-room school for their children in an abandoned office building. The story furnishes valuable lessons for dealing with this latest example of nature’s fury.

The book is entitled Sugarcane Academy: How a New Orleans Teacher and His Storm-Struck Students Created a School to Remember.The author of this intriguing true story is journalist Michael Tisserand, and the volume was published in 2007 by Harcourt. You can find the book on amazon.com at the following link:

For other intriguing stories about remarkable teachers in America’s sometimes turbulent history, check out my book Chalkboard Champions. You will find it on the web site for Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Ten-year-old Dalton Sherman asks the question, “Do you believe in your students?”

As educators all over the country ready for another school year, we are undoubtedly contemplating our role as a teacher, advocate, and role model for our kids. Here is a keynote speech from a young man just ten years old who asks the question, “Do you believe in your students?” You’ve got to see this!

Colyn Fischer: Middle school music teacher and award-winning Scottish Fiddler

imgresThere are many examples of talented musicians who go on to become exemplary music educators. This is certainly true of Colyn C. Fischer, an award-winning violinist from Pennsylvania who now works as a middle school music teacher.

Colyn was born in 1977 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He began to play the violin at the tender age of three, concentrating on Scottish fiddling since the age of five. While just a teen, he studied under a number of notable American Scottish fiddlers, including John Turner and Bonnie Rideout, and several celebrated fiddlers from Scotland, including Ian Powie and Alasdair Hardy.

Following his graduation from Penn-Trafford High School in Harrison City, Pennsylvania, Colyn enrolled at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. There he earned his bachelor’s degree in music performance in violin from Wheaton College in 1999. He completed the requirements for his teaching credential at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, in 2005.

In 1993, Colyn garnered the first-place title in the American National Scottish Fiddling Championship, Junior Division. In 2005 he won in the open category in Texas, a title which he captured again in 2006 in Ohio.

Colyn first taught music in grades three through eight in the Silver Valley Unified School District in California’s San Bernardino County. He worked there from 2006-2009. Currently, Colyn teaches orchestra at Central Middle School in the San Carlos School District located in San Francisco, California. He also teaches the annual Jink and Diddle School of Scottish Fiddling, and gives private violin and fiddle lessons.

Tidye Pickett: The Chicago school teacher who became the first African American woman to represent the US in the Olympics

tidyepickettThere are many examples throughout American history of talented educators who have also distinguished themselves in the field of sports. One such example is the remarkable Tidye Pickett.

Theodora Anne Pickett was born on November 13, 1914, in Chicago, Illinois. Known by everyone as Tidye, she was the second of two children born to Louis and Sarah Pickett.

As a teenager, Tidye took up running. She quickly established a reputation as a high school track star at her alma mater, Englewood High School in Chicago. She was one of two African American women selected to represent the United States women’s track team in the 1932 Olympic Games held in Los Angeles. She was scheduled to serve as part of an eight-woman relay team and as an alternate sprinter in the 80-meter hurdles, the broad jump, and the 100-meter sprint, but did not actually compete in those games. When the 1936 games rolled around, Tidye was again selected to represent the US. A foot injury prevented Tidye from medaling in those games; however, she did earn the distinction of being the first African American woman to compete in an Olympic Games.

Tidye earned her bachelor’s degree from Pestalozzi Froebel Teachers College in Chicago and her master’s degree in education from Northern Illlinois University in August, 1956. Following her college graduation, Tidye accepted a position as a teacher at Cottage Grove Elementary in East Chicago Heights. She taught there for just one year, and then the talented educator was promoted to the position of principal of Woodlawn School in the same district. She remained in that position for 23 years until her retirement in 1980. In recognition for her many years of distinguished service, the district renamed her school Tidy A. Pickett School.

This amazing chalkboard champion passed away on November 17, 1986, at the age of 72.

Alice Bag: The Punk Rock rebel who became an elementary school bilingual teacher

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Throughout American history, there are numerous examples of exceptional educators who also exhibit talents in artistic endeavors. One such educator is Alice Bag, an elementary school bilingual education teacher who has also made a name for herself on the punk rock scene, author, and up-and-coming painter.

Alice Bag was born Alicia Armendariz on November 7, 1958, in the barrio of East Los Angeles. Her parents were impoverished immigrants from Mexico. As a youngster, Alice had few friends in school, and was often the target of bullies. She experienced the hardship of starting school without knowing how to speak English. This experience led her to become passionate about education, and especially about bilingual programs.

When just eight years old, Alice began her professional singing career. She recorded theme songs for cartoons in both English and Spanish. As an adult, she became the co-founder and lead singer of The Bags, one of the first girls punk rock groups to emerge from the Los Angeles area. The band, which was formed in the mid-70’s, was most active during the years 1977-1981, during which time they released their best-known singles, “Survive” and “Babylonian Gorgon.”

“Rock ‘n’ roll stands for rebellion,” Alice once explained. “and if you’re feeling disenfranchised, it gives you a voice.” Alice had much to rebel against. An abusive father, for one thing; a Chicano culture that favored males, for another; and on top of that, racial discrimination against the Latino community. Music gave her the opportunity to channel that rebellion. For her pioneering work as a Latina punk rock performer, Alice has been featured in the Penelope Spheeris documentary The Decline of Western Civilization, and a traveling Smithsonian exhibition entitled “American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music.”

After the break-up of The Bags, Alice studied how to bake pastries with a French patissier, studied painting at a community college, started a daily blog and website devoted to the history of the LA punk scene, and authored two books. In 2011, Alice published her memoir, Violence Girl: East L.A. Rage to Hollywood Stage: A Chicana Punk Story, which describes her childhood of domestic violence. The coming-of-age volume launched a reading and performance tour across the United States, and is also taught in university courses in the departments of literature, gender studies, and Chicano studies. Her second book, Pipe Bomb for the Soul, was released in 2015.

After Alice earned her bachelor’s degree in philosophy from California State University at Los Angeles, she began teaching in inner-city schools in LA using the name Alice Velazquez, her married name. Now aged 57, she has retired after twenty years in the classroom. Alice says her years as a teacher has brought a sense of clarity to the lyrics of her current songs. “I was quick to get in arguments and often get in fights,” she remembers of her pre-teaching years. “Working with children, I found that I couldn’t ever be angry at a child. If there was a problem communicating or reaching the child, I felt like it was my responsibility to figure out how to communicate what I was trying to say,” she explains. “I think I became a more effective communicator. I learned how to clarify my thoughts,” she concludes.

Alice Bag currently lives in San Diego with her husband and three children.