California Teachers Association

May / June 2016

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YOUR VOICE T H E N O T E I S in my school mailbox when I return on a Friday. A broken wrist that didn't set properly and a medical appointment that could only be had on a ursday made it necessary to take a sick day. I'd left instructions that the students would run the class. But why the note, what had happened? e class was set up so that everybody has a turn to choose topics, make presen- tations, give assignments, and do follow-up. I show the letter to Ray O'Neil, my stu- dent second-in-command . He laughs a response: "Hey, Brotha, you missed a good show — but, come to think of it, if you were here, it wouldn't have been a show. "at lady is sitting here when we walk in. Soon as the bell rings, she stands up, all five feet of her, and gives us a big pep talk on how we were gonna learn a whole bunch of political things that day. en she writes s om e titl e h eadin gs on th e b o ard and passes out copies of one of those political papers they give out at the peace rallies. "But you know how psyched up Danny gets. It's his day to lead a discussion on Samoan culture. He stands up and says, 'Mrs. Lady, did you read Matai Rothstein's instructions?' " D a n n y i s 6 - f o o t - 5 a n d w e i g h s 2 5 0 pounds. Matai means chief in Samoan. "She blinks but stands her ground and tells him, 'I'm teacher today and I am run- ning the class.' "Danny gets a little upset, and, well — well, he tells her what's what." I envision all sorts of scenarios, none of them good, as Ray narrates. "at was supposed to be your job, Ray- mond," I say. "Hey, Kool, it happens too quick for me to do anything. But nobody gets hurt. In fact, it went so well, she made nice to us after the class. "Danny shouts at her real loud: 'If you read the Matai's instructions, you'd know that I am the teacher today.' " Well, that poor lady looks like she is gonna cry. But she pulls herself togetha, sits down and lets Danny do his thing." Two weeks later, I meet Mary at a union meeting. "at class of yours was fantastic," she says. "Once I backed down from that big Samoan kid, they totally amazed me. He told a few legends of Samoa, some Samoan history, and passed out a ditto sheet with some questions on it, and then opened up the class to discussion. He and that other young man, Ray I think his name is" — I nod and she continues — "led a discussion that pulled everyone in. ere were 30-plus kids participating in a nonstop talk that went past the bell." I respond , " That wasn't me — it was them. I just get them and let them do their thing." "However you do, it's magic," she says, "and since you are their designated teacher, my name for you is Magic Man." I laugh to myself and mentally add it to my list of roles. Fast-forward to August 2015, when a former student adds a new role: writer. He publishes a collection of my stories called It Couldn't Have Been the Pay. He's right. Ir ving Roth stein i s a retired United Educa- tors of San Francisco m e m b e r. H i s m e m - oir, It Couldn't Have Been the Pay : A Life of Teaching and Learning in Public Schools (Rocín Publishing, 2015), collects his stories from more than 30 years of teach- ing. He used storytelling and humor in the classroom to teach, but also to help students from all backgrounds learn about themselves and one another. Magic Man By IRVING ROTHSTEIN February 1971 Mr. Rothstein, I have an apology to make. I came in thinking that no one in San Francisco knew what it meant to be a teacher, and tried to substitute my own lesson plan. e students quickly showed me I was wrong. e class was amazing. ank you for the lesson. Sincerely, Your Substitute, Mary Atrade 19 May / June 2016

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