Armando DeAsis will set foot in Juneau-Douglas High School this morning as a freshman, and he gave advice to teachers district-wide Monday to set the tone for all students.
DeAsis told teachers at the annual teachers’ Welcome Breakfast on Monday they need to give students three things to help them succeed: familiarity, reason (to keep coming to class) and motivation.
“There are things you can give students to help them succeed,” he said. “There are things that people, not just kids need to see. We need motivations, we need connections. If we’re not connected we feel out of place and we don’t really want to try.”
DeAsis said his birth mother did drugs and so he and his brother were adopted. DeAsis, who has both Alaska Native and Mexican heritage, was told to not expect to graduate.
“I had a lot of teachers that helped motivate me,” DeAsis said. “Last year I was in AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination). It was my favorite class ever. It was like a little family at school. Mr. Quinto, he’s a nice friend and awesome teacher. To succeed, first before anything you need to believe that you can succeed. You need belief in yourself and you need belief in everyone around you.”
DeAsis urged teachers to never talk negatively to students. Don’t tell them how bad they did or how they failed. Tell them how they can bring their grade up, how they can improve.
He also told them students need a connection to school. DeAsis said he lives in two worlds. At home his life is embedded in Tlingit culture. When he comes to school, that’s gone. He doesn’t talk about what he does at home.
DeAsis said if they put more culture in school that would help students connect and also help them learn — and that culture goes well beyond artwork.
“If you don’t have who you are, where you are you feel so out of place,” he said.
DeAsis gave the example of the work he’d done over the summer processing fish. He learned so much that he knows exactly what to do. DeAsis recently went to Angoon to do the same work, but in a different place, and didn’t know where to put the materials.
“Familiarity, if you feel out of place it feels strange to do something, even if you’ve done it a million times in a row,” he said.
DeAsis said Tlingit culture was passed on orally from generation to generation. Stories were repeated over and over until they were memorized, so that no detail was forgotten.
“I think that’s something we should do at the school,” DeAsis said. “If we fail a grade or a class, that’s it. We should be able to try again because sometimes it takes more than one try to be able to do something.”
He told teachers to give students a reason to come back.
“Even if the reason to go back to school is one teacher being nice to you,” DeAsis said. “Any kind of reason is a good enough reason. ... . Kids who are doing perfect at the beginning of high school end up dropping out by the end of the year because they don’t know what they can get out of it. You as teachers can give them a reason to come back to school, to not drop out.”
Alaska Teacher of the Year Lorrie Heagy, librarian and music teacher at Glacier Valley Elementary, gave a message to teachers to share. It’s a simple thing that is a value instilled in children, yet as adults, sharing what you know can be perceived as boastful so we stop sharing.
“As I traveled this year throughout parts of Alaska and the United States, I carried you all on my shoulders,” she said. “I have grown and I continue to grow as a teacher because you take time to share what works and what doesn’t work in your classroom.”
Heagy said she had the opportunity to see a great lesson unfold while she was traveling, and she encouraged the teacher to share the experience with her colleagues. She told Heagy she couldn’t, because it would feel like she was bragging.
“It’s our professional duty to share outward,” Heagy said. “It just might be the answer a teacher was looking for. We have to take the ego out of the equation. We have to make sure those successes reach the public. If we don’t tell our stories, others will for us and they don’t always focus on what’s working. Always frame things in the positive for students, not the negative so they know what they can do. ‘Walking feet’ instead of ‘don’t run.’ It’s the same for education, if we only hear what’s not working, how can we learn from each other what we can do, what is working?”
• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at firstname.lastname@example.org