The Muscogee County School District’s 2016 Teacher of the Year told the 56 nominees for the 2017 award, “The national landscape is not as unified as it should be. I believe, and I truly believe, it falls on teachers to fix that.”
Stefan Lawrence, an English teacher at Carver High School, was speaking at the Muscogee Educational Excellence Foundation’s breakfast Monday in the Columbus Convention & Trade Center. He noted the cover of Time’s Dec. 19 issued called Donald Trump president of the “Divided” States of America as the news magazine named him its 2016 Person of the Year.
“I think if we’re honest with ourselves,” Lawrence said, “we say that Time was right.”
Teachers can help solve this problem, he suggested, by having “tough conversations with our kids about what it means to be fair and loving and honest and democratic. And we’ve got to challenge them and let them fall and pick them back up and sometimes don’t pick them back up and let them pick themselves back up.
“And we’ve got to continuously do these things because our country hangs in the balance. We’ve got to let them know that it’s OK to have conversations with each other.”
One of his classes at his predominantly black school includes an especially diverse mix of students, Lawrence said, including a Muslim student, a Hispanic student, and students from families with various socioeconomic levels.
“They need to know how to talk with each other about tough issues,” he said.
Lawrence referred to MCSD superintendent David Lewis calling adults “immigrants in our children’s world” and added, “We think sometimes that they’re not ready for it when actually they’re overqualified for what’s coming their way. They’re ready to have these conversations; they just need a safe place to do it -- and it falls on us to provide that safe place.”
Lawrence told his colleagues that being a teacher is “something that most people do not have the gumption to sign on for.”
Even otherwise brave people.
Lawrence relayed a conversation he had two weeks ago with a Fort Benning soldier. He marveled at the courage the soldier shows when he runs toward gunshots instead of away from them.
The soldier replied, “You have the tough job.”
Lawrence: “I’m a teacher.”
As the crowd cracked up, Lawrence explained, “That was the extent of the conversation. … So never underestimate the importance of the job that you do.”