As an educator, I am drawn to movies that depict teachers and other aspects of education. Often the plot is highly predictable, but each uniquely inspirational. The teacher in the movie learns to believe in a student or group of students who often do not believe in themselves. The teacher tries everything in his/her power to reach the students. The journey isn’t always pleasant, but failure is not an option. We witness the challenges and triumphs. Our minds wander to the struggles of our own students and the difference we strive to make. Through the course of the movie, we witness a shift – not only in the students but in the teacher. Both are transformed and so are we.
One of my all time favorite inspirational teacher movies is Freedom Writers. The movie is based on a true story involving Erin Gruwell and her students from the inner city of Los Angeles. She hopes to inspire students to read great works of literature, yet her methods fail to reach the students until she discovers the power of “studying the student” and building meaningful relationships. Both Erin and the students are transformed through their struggles to learn to respect each other. Once they reached a level of trust and respect, the learning and growing ignite!
I recently had the pleasure to be inspired by one of the original Freedom Writers, Manny Scott, at the ASCD Conference in Atlanta, GA. He told the audience that Marcus, in the movie Freedom Writers, was the character that best portrayed his life journey. I have watched the movie countless times and plan to watch it again, this time focusing in on Marcus.
I was moved to tears listening to Manny Scott. He carried the audience through his challenging life often acting out scenes with great emotion – the highs and the extreme lows. As a former High School Drama Director, I caught myself admiring how he “stayed in character” and had to remind myself HE was the character. This was HIS life. A life in poverty and so much more.
“Poverty is not just a lack of money, but poverty is a lack of access to the people who can help you make something out of your life.” – Manny Scott
Manny was so appreciative of the teaching profession as a whole, knowing that each and everyday teachers around the globe are making a difference in the lives of their students. He reminded us to really study our students, be an anthropologist and not to give up. He encouraged us to keep trying stuff until we find what works!
“Don’t give up on me, help me.” -Manny Scott
We also must study ourselves and our internal beliefs, especially when faced with students from backgrounds unlike our own. Have we considered where our students come from? Their lifestyles and role models? Do we really know them? Do we understand them? Do we know what is important to them? Do we believe in them and that they can rise from their current reality? If there is something in the way with our mindset, we must be honest with ourselves, and work to remove the bias.
“Is there anything in me, which keeps me from seeing who my students really are?” -Manny Scott
As educators, we strive to never stop learning. We need to continue to keep current on approaches and methods that interest the students in our classrooms – even if they don’t appeal to us personally. Erin Gruwell, the teacher portrayed in Freedom Writers, ended up using rap music to reach her students even though it was a music genre she knew little about or even liked. Manny encouraged us to not lower our standards just because a student struggles. He challenged us to find connections with students in order to lift them to the standards, just as Erin Gruwell did for him and his classmates.
“Don’t change or lower your standard. Change your method to lift students to your standard.” – Manny Scott
Manny credits his ability to change his life to others – those that believed in him even when he didn’t believe in himself. He didn’t want his story to impress us, he wanted to impress upon us that our work as educators is not in vain. He realizes that a teacher’s job is difficult, but he urged us to KEEP SHOWING UP! Our worst day as educators is nothing compared to what some of our students are going through. For many, the time at school is the best hours of the day they have – believe in them. Look at them, tell them they are going to be great – you can see it in their eyes!
“Sometimes you have to believe in someone else’s belief in you before you believe in yourself.” – Manny Scott
I was so inspired by Manny Scott and pleased that he has continued to give back through his speaking and writing as well as focusing on his own education (soon to earn a Ph.D.)! Manny’s book Your Next Chapter: How to Turn the Page and Create the Life of Your Dreams and How to R.E.A.C.H. Youth Today have been added to my “to read” pile along with The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them.
Manny left us with these words, holding back tears.
“Your work can ripple for generations to come. Each word, each conversation matters.” – Manny Scott
Soon after the keynote Jill Gough tweeted out an amazing set of visual notes. She gave me permission to share them here. She used the app 53 Paper app. Learning to create similar visuals is on my summer “to-do list!” Check out Jill Gough for many other visual notes! I’m in AWE!