Behind every student is an educator who inspires. 826LA is honored to work with such amazing teachers and educators.
Jairo Gomez has been a dedicated volunteer working with Ms. Deborah Chapman’s English Language Development class for the past couple of months. He has been so inspired by his experience in the classroom that he interviewed Ms. Chapman about her thoughts on happiness in the Declaration of Independence, her efforts to lengthen her students’ lives, and the importance of love in her work:
When I stepped in Ms. Deborah Chapman’s classroom, the first thing that left an impression was her warm welcome for both students and volunteers. Standing outside her classroom door, Ms. Chapman shook every students’ hands as she welcomed them in, creating an atmosphere of family and safety. When I first stepped out of Ms. Chapman’s classroom, I was in awe of her work. To see her in action is truly inspirational – from leading her students through a daily mantra to Shakespearean monologues — her vibrant personality goes far beyond the classroom.
Jairo: Why and when did you decide to be a teacher?
Ms. Chapman: My roommate after college was a teacher and she would come home with all kinds of stories about her students. It made me want to interact with kids as well. At that time, there was a huge teacher shortage, so the district was giving out emergency credentials. I decided to apply. I never looked back.
Ms. Chapman: The recitation is a “mantra” in order to clear their minds and prepare them for what we are about to put into those minds. I started shaking hands with my students after a professional development workshop where we learned how important check-ins are. Greeting students at the door is a way to quickly assess a student’s emotional state and begin the class with an affirmation that you care about them. You say the student’s name and look into their eyes….I’ve learned a lot about students just by how they grasp my hand. Scientists say that those who are physically touched by others live longer than those who rarely have physical contact. I want to make sure my students live long lives!
Jairo: Are there any other class traditions?
Ms. Chapman: I have an “exit” mantra. It is “Ite inflammate omnia” which is Latin for “Go, and set the world on fire,” in other words, I want them to spread the knowledge they have learned in class today. The students must respond with “I suma face” which means, “I am a torch!”
Jairo: Besides giving students a strong educational groundwork, what do you want to impart on your students?
Ms. Chapman: I try to impart a sense of pride in oneself — to be proud as a growing intellectual. It is so important for students to feel confident in life and taking pride in their work. And knowledge is key to feeling confident.
Jairo: What are your philosophies in life that have affected your teaching?
Ms. Chapman: One of my philosophies is a cliche, but a cliche that is nevertheless true — “Knowledge is power.” I believe that my students deserve to be happy. Since I also believe that with knowledge comes more power, it stands to reason that the more powerful my students feel, the happier they will probably be. In the Declaration of Independence that we are guaranteed certain inalienable rights. The right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Happiness is a right. Isn’t that beautiful?
Jairo: What clubs do you run on campus?
Ms. Chapman: I run two clubs: the Outsiders and the Insiders. Kids need experiential learning. The Outsiders camp, rock climb, kayak, hike, bike, etc. The Insiders go to museums and eat different kinds of ethnic foods and experience cultural activities that they wouldn’t normally experience. This month I plan to take my Outsiders to Montaña de Oro State Park and my Insiders to henna their hands. Should be fun!
Jairo: What kind of cool activities do you try to organize for your students?
Ms. Chapman: I’ve done lots of museums and even more outdoor activities. I often get grants that take students outdoors—we recently went to Pt. Dume State Beach and saw five whales! I’ve also taken students to Vasquez Rocks, Joshua Tree National Park, and the Norton Simon Museum.
Jairo: What has the been the biggest thing(s) you’ve learned while on the job and from your students?
Ms. Chapman: Love is the most important ingredient in teaching a child.
Jairo: Where does this love come from? Why is it so easy for you?
Ms. Chapman: Love doesn’t have to be blood. Love is never easy. But it’s always worth it.
That’s the thing about Ms. Chapman. In her 30 years of teaching, she has embodied dedication, love, and devotion to students through her energetic commitment in the classroom and out. This was evident to me — a volunteer who has been in her classroom for only five weeks. And because of that I want to express my sincerest admiration to a teacher I would have loved to have had in high school. Fortunately, Ms. Chapman’s presence will be shared for a long time. When asked if she considered volunteering with 826LA post retirement she responded with, “Yup! Can’t wait!”
Jairo Gomez is a Los Angeles native. He enjoys podcasts, bike riding, is a massive Atletico Madrid fan, and loves Vampire Weekend, Phoenix, and Local Natives. He enjoys a good board game, is an avid KCRW listener, and is always on the hunt for a decent slice of pie. He aspires to pursue a career in teaching or managing a nonprofit in the arts.
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