What's your education story?

This teacher got her student to listen by bringing down the wrath of ‘Nana’

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Anita Saunders poses for a photo after telling her story at a Teacher Story Slam.

Dozens of educators gathered to tell stories of the challenges and joys of teaching at Ash & Elm Cider Co. The event was organized by teacher Ronak Shah and sponsored by Teach for America. In the coming weeks, Chalkbeat will share a few of our favorites, lightly edited for clarity.

Anita Saunders works with programs for young children at Indianapolis Public Schools. This story takes place during her time teaching at Tindley Preparatory Academy. For more stories about Indianapolis educators, see our “What’s Your Education Story?” occasional series.

I did not go to school to become a teacher. I went to undergrad, graduate school, got my doctorate, worked in the nonprofit world and then joined (Teach for America). For my TFA career, I was placed at an all-boys middle school.

This event happened my second year teaching. One day, they are supposed to be doing a research paper on the Underground Railroad. And I had just finished explaining to them what the assignment was and what they were to be doing.

They are all working silently, and I’m thanking the lord that I finally got them quiet for a little bit, and we are actually getting some work done. Then I hear, “psst, psst …” You know, that whisper that starts to happen, that you know is going to grow louder and louder if you don’t get control of it.

I give what has been dubbed the “Anita stare.” I give the stare to tell him, “Get your act together.” Then I use my non-verbals. I go closer. I give him the look.

He was quiet for a little bit, and then all of a sudden, I hear this: sniff. sniff.

It’s the same kid that had just been talking, wiping his nose with his sleeve.

For about the next 5 minutes, he’s talking and snorting snot. I’m thinking, well, sending him to the office, I’ve been there with him before on this. And going to the office really doesn’t faze him very much. I know, though, if I call his mother, then that’s going to fix it.

So I pull out my cell phone, dial the number. I got mom on speed dial, because you have to do that with a couple of students.

Phone rings, and someone answers, and I say, “Hello, good morning. This is Dr. Saunders from the school, and I’d like to speak with Jonte’s mom.”

This voice comes back: “Well, she’s not here right now. What can I do? What’s going on?”

I said, “Who is this?”

“This is his Nana.”

I said, “Well ma’am, he’s having a little bit of a struggle in class right now. He’s talking, and he won’t stop.”

She said, “What is that boy doing?”

I said, “He’s talking,” — and I’m looking right at Jonte — “he’s talking, and he won’t stop.”

She said, “That boy knows better than to do that. We take him to church every Sunday. He knows he’s supposed to be respectful, especially at school.”

I said, “Well ma’am. I know you do a good job, you and his mama do a good job. But the lesson in church is not getting through. Maybe he needs some more church. Do you guys go to Wednesday meeting?”

She said, “His mama and I go, but he’s got basketball practice on Wednesdays.”

I said, “Well you know what” — and I’m looking at Jonte — “maybe he should miss basketball practice.”

He’s shaking his head, She’s talking to my Nana! She’s talking to my Nana! And I’m still looking at Jonte, and she said “Really, you think that’s best?”

And I said, “Yes ma’am I do. I think he could gain from more church and less basketball. Another thing. He seems to be a little ill right now. He’s snotting and everything.”

I said, “I’ll see if I can get him to blow his nose a little bit, maybe send him to the nurse, but as long as he stops talking for right now, that’s going to be enough for me right now. You let his mom know that I called.”

She said, “Well you think maybe, so I should take him to church? Should I give him some medicine when he gets home?”

I said, “Well, that may not be a bad idea: A little more church, a little more medicine.”

She ends the conversation with, “Well, you the doctor.”

What's Your Education Story?

Join Chalkbeat for a night of hilarious and heartbreaking storytelling by teachers

PHOTO: Ronak Shah

Kick off the school year with a night of hilarious, heartbreaking and inspiring stories from educators.

Over the past year, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from the teachers, students and leaders of Indianapolis through our occasional series, What’s Your Education Story? Some of our favorites were told live, during teacher story slams hosted by Teachers Lounge Indy. They touched on how a teacher used the story of black santa to keep a difficult student engaged, a student who triumphed at school before tragedy struck and the unexpected lesson of a mouse in the classroom.

Next month, Chalkbeat is partnering with Teachers Lounge Indy, WFYI Public Media and the Indianapolis Public Library to host a story slam. The event, 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 5, will showcase tales from across Circle City classrooms. It is free and open to the public.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017
Central Library, Clowes Auditorium
40 E. St. Clair St., Indianapolis, IN
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

What's Your Education Story?

‘Everything is going to be great,’ he told his teacher. She wishes that was the end of his story.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Katie Speer shared her story at an event hosted by Indy Teachers Lounge.

Educators from across Indianapolis gathered to tell stories about the joys and heartbreaks of teaching at a storytelling event hosted by Teachers Lounge Indy. Chalkbeat sharing a few of our favorites, edited for clarity.

Katie Speer is a middle school teacher at KIPP Indy. For more stories about Indianapolis educators, see our occasional series “What’s Your Education Story?”.

This story centers around a student that I taught last year. He was in my homeroom, and this student was literally everyone’s best friend. He could meet someone and then they would be best friends. His smile lit up the room. His laughter was echoing in the lunchroom. Everyone loved him.

The problem was, I taught him at the end of the day. By the time he got to me at 2:50, he was worn out from just bringing joy to the world.

He’d come to my class, and he’d be like, “Hey Miss Speer!” And I’d be like, “Hey, how are you?”

And then five minutes into my class, he’d be (snoring), just out, out to the world. I would call his name out in my class. I’d walk over. I would tap him.

Then I moved his seat, directly to the left of me. And every minute, I would just poke him. Over time, he was immune to my pokes.

I was like, “OK. We got to figure this out. You are not passing my class, but you are brilliant. We have to fix this.”

So my solution was, I had to start calling home. His dad was great. He would be ready to answer the phone during my class. The second his head would start to go, I’d be like, “no, we are calling dad.”

And he hated it. It was the only thing that I could get to work. And he was like, “Oh, you are the worst. You are petty. You are lame. I hate you.” All of that.

I actually called his dad four days in a row, and he was so mad at me. But then, the next progress report came out and he was passing my class.

I’m like, “OK. I can do this. I can go home every day and feel like he hates me, but it’s working.”

At my school, we do this thing called shout-outs. We end every day on a positive note. The students have the floor, and they shout out someone in their homeroom.

He’s like, “I have a shout-out, I have a shout-out.”

He said, “Miss Speer, I would like to shout you out for always calling home. Even though I say that I hate it, I know that you do it because you love me, and I know that you do it because you want to make a difference, and that means a lot to me.”

The school year goes on, and he passes all of his classes. And it’s time for promotion. We always gather in homerooms to prep for promotion and go over the details one more time. And he shows up in suit pants, the nicest dress shoes, this beautiful suit vest and this bowtie and a bright yellow button-up.

And he’s like, “Miss Speer take a picture of all the boys. Miss Speer take a picture of the whole class. Miss Speer just take a picture of me, because I look great.”

The night comes to an end, and I’m literally standing on the sidewalk waiting for people to get picked up and I’m just sobbing.

He gives me a hug and he’s like, “Everything is going to be great. Thank you for being my teacher. Thank you for being great. You are going to be fine. We are going to be fine. I’m going to be fine. It’s gonna be good.”

I would love for that to be the end of this story.

But unfortunately, three weeks into summer, he was killed in an act of gun violence.

I think that although this story isn’t happy, it’s something that I want to share because everyday, I am pushed to be a better person and a better teacher. In his memory, sometimes I do the tough things or I go the extra mile, or I make those calls that I really didn’t want to make because I know that I’m going to hear it from the student, because I know that it matters. I want to continue to be that person.

Shout out to all the teachers who do that every single day, because it’s hard to make the hard phone calls. It’s hard to go the extra mile. It’s really hard to go home and feel like you are not on their side. But it matters. It makes a difference.

Shout out to him because he makes me a better person every single day.