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TEACHER VOICES: Michele Godwin, #2

“I’ll try mayonnaise.”

Michele GodwinEd. note: Michele Godwin is beginning her 14th year of teaching high school. She’s back at Leadership High School, where she taught from 2001 to 2008. An English teacher by training and experience, Michele has changed her focus to build a library for Leadership. In addition to her fundraising and library organizing, she is an 11th grade adviser. These are her musings from the past few weeks. Please donate!

favicon Wednesday, 9/3 – 3:30 p.m.
Professional Development. A panel of six junior and senior boys talk to the staff about what it means to teach boys. They are poised and thoughtful and appreciate the opportunity to share their thoughts. When asked, “What do you want us to know about you?” one boy tells us that it takes some time for him to settle into school in the morning, that he must act tough in his neighborhood and on the long commute on BART. He has to let down his guard when he arrives to LHS, and that takes effort.

Wednesday, 9/10 – 1:15 p.m.
Family meeting with an advisee and her parents. We discuss her behavior and the frequency with which she is asked to leave class for disrupting. She describes what “sets her off,” not realizing how “meta” she is being. She is a junior and has run out of time for messing around and not being in class. She knows this, and it adds to her anxiety. The more anxious she is, the more likely she is to lose her temper. It is a cycle of behavior that she struggles to get out of.

Thursday, 9/11 – 4:05 p.m.
No one at school acknowledges the events of 9/11, when my advisees were a year old. I’m reminded: Just because I think something is important doesn’t mean my students do.

Wednesday, 9/17 – 3:45 p.m.
Professional Development and we begin with connections. A teacher shares she is feeling connected to loss and grief. So soon in the school year, and a middle school boy has been stabbed to death because of an argument over social media. Many of our students feel connected to the lost boy, by neighborhood or family or friendship. Others can’t help but see themselves in the boy’s fate. All of us feel the hole in our stomachs where hope is supposed to be.

Thursday, 9/12 – 2:15 p.m.
Another family meeting, this time with a boy, his parents, and a Spanish-speaking translator. When asked to describe his goals for the year, the boy tells me he wants As and Bs. I show him his grades, his transcript, where Cs and Ds live. He falls silent as he gets an earful from the translator, the Spanish teacher and Madre to all. The boy’s parents listen carefully, the boy hangs his head, and Madre tells him, “Only you can make a future for yourself.” I feel bad for him; he wasn’t expecting two advisors. I text him later, asking if he prefers mayonnaise or mustard on his sandwiches. He refuses to respond. I’ll try mayonnaise.

Wednesday, 9:17 – 10:15 a.m.
The first day of the new and improved, school-wide, independent reading program. Every adviser has 25 brand-new books. The students have looked through them, examined their covers, written down the ones they might be interested in. For me, the past two months have led up to this moment. My goal: every student in the school gets lost in a story.

Same day, 2:25 p.m.
I hear from my colleague, who happened to be walking around the school during independent reading time. She says she’s never heard the school so quiet, that she walked into classrooms and every one was reading. I pat myself on the back, but only for a minute. There’s lots more work to do. favicon


  1. Tony

    This was a bittersweet read – you are certainly back at the ‘ship. The school is better for it. I really like your goal of “every student in the school gets lost in a story”. Hoping to visit your lovely library when I visit the Bay.

  2. Jessica

    Our first year … first month! teaching at the ‘ship was marked by 9/11/01. So much about that day and beyond was tragic, but the way the school responded and made space for community and discussion, showed me I was in an amazing place. Thanks for your work. PS – I like relish

  3. Alix Guerrier

    Thanks, Michele. Just a glimpse into the amazing work happening every every day. And, Jessica, I remember our first milestones at LHS so well, including September 11.

  4. Maya

    Michele, It made my day to read your snapshots into the meaningful and difficult experiences that happen when you connect with students. I often wonder why I left LHS and when I read that you recently returned, a little voice said “hey you could too”. I knew we were all part of something really special back then and it is heartening to know that you are continuing to be one of the best parts of it. Oh and “Don’t mess with Texas”.

  5. mgodwin72

    I’m not sure how I missed your comments, you sweet and wonderful people! Thanks so so much Thuy and Tony and Jessica and Alix and Maya! I’m sorry I didn’t respond earlier. I’ll keep writing and I’ll ask you all to continue your encouragment, please. I promise I’ll respond in a much more timely and appreciative manner!

Please share your brilliant insights!