Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Darcy Salvadore: Finder of Delightful Things

I am so excited to have Darcy Salvadore as my first interviewee for Teacher Testimony!  Darcy and I met in 1999 when we went through the Inland Area Writing Project together.  We soon found that we were two halves of the same whole in many, many ways.  She says she's my evil twin, but in truth, we are both evil and sometimes I just hide it better!  We have both taught English for thirteen years, we were married on the same day of the same year, our mothers have the same first name and we shared our first pregnancies, delivering within a month of each other. Currently, Darcy and I both teach at Los Osos High School in Rancho Cucamonga, California.

I chose Darcy not only because I like her so, so much, but also because I knew her answers to these questions would be thoughtful, true, and a pleasure to read and share with you.

SE: When did you decide to become a teacher?
DS: I decided that teaching was the career for me the year after graduation from college. I signed up to sub to make some dollars while I tried to decide between going to law school or to graduate school. I always thought I would hate working in a high school since I hated being a high school student. To my surprise, I enjoyed working with teens and actually liked the high school setting.

SE: How did you choose what you wanted to teach?
DS: I majored in English at the University because I love to read, think, and talk about literature. If I were to do it all over again, I’d probably do art instead.

SE: What have you learned about yourself and the world by being a teacher?
DS: I learned that I really am smarter than the average bear. All of my life, I thought that most people were at least as smart as me, probably because my jobs and experiences led me to be with other people just like me. My classes have always been filled with a variety of learners, very few who are just like me. Being smarter than the average bear doesn’t necessarily mean you will have more success, or more friends, or be happier. It just means that some things are easier.

I’ve learned that it takes courage to try to do things when you are pretty sure you are going to fail. It is easy to try things when your success is a given. I see kids everyday trying when success isn’t guaranteed. I try every day in that same way.

I’ve learned that the most effective way to persuade people is by modeling your beliefs. In other words, let’s say you want people (colleagues, students, spouses, children) to try doing something your way (which is clearly better, because it is your way). You can instruct, beg, bargain, whine, or nag and they will steadfastly continue doing whatever it is their way. Sometimes, they will pretend to give in just to get you to go away and shut up. However, if you resist the urge to instruct and just show them, many people will go ahead and try your way. They might not give you credit, but you will have persuaded them to do the thing your way, which is what you wanted in the first place. I want my students to read, so I read in front of them. I want my husband to exercise, so I exercise in front of him. I want my kid to eat right and love well, so I eat right and love her. It is amazing how well it works.

SE: Did you have a teacher that inspired you when you were young?
DS: I had some really awesome teachers: Mrs. Timko who taught me to read and to play the guitar and Mr. Salisbury who made me feel really smart.

SE: When your students look back on their time with you, what is it you hope they remember?
DS: I am always surprised at what they do remember. Students from Colton [High School in Colton, California] looked me up four years after graduation to talk about utilitarianism. Who woulda thought these esoteric ideas would stick?

I want them to remember the lessons literature teaches us: What makes us human? Why do we act the way we do? How can we get along better in the world?

SE: If you were speaking to a brand new teacher, what one piece of advice would you pass along?
DS: Give yourself a break; be forgiving of yourself. Teaching, done well, is always difficult.

SE: What was your funniest or most surprising experience in the classroom?
DS: Funny things happen every day in my class, on purpose and by accident. The strangest thing, though, happened at Colton. I was in the front of the room, talking, when a girl came in the door, walked across the room, down a row of students to the last kid, reached down and picked up his soda, took a swig, and walked out. The students watched her in silence and the soda owner did nothing to stop her. I looked at the soda owner and said, “Do you know that girl?” He replied, “I’ve never seen her before in my life.” Who does that? Was she walking down the hall thinking, “I sure am thirsty. I know! I’ll just walk in classrooms until I see a soda on someone’s desk.” Talk about random.

SE: What has been the most touching?
DS: This year, both of my parents passed away, first dad, then mom. One of my students, a shy boy with learning disabilities, came up to my desk. He handed me a Hershey bar and a hand written note-card that said, “Sorry you lost your mother.” This simplicity and sincerity of his gesture really touched me.

SE: What goals or dreams do you have for yourself in terms of your craft?
DS: Some weeks, it feels like my only goal is to make it till the end of the term. But, that is just the day to day struggle to keep up with grading bringing me down. On a good day in the classroom you can actually feel the electricity from synapses flashing. I’d like to experience that more often.

SE: What metaphor would be most appropriate for you as a teacher?
DS: I am a wrangler of ideas. [She does have these perfect little cowboy boots that she wears with these short, cotton skirts -- I love those boots!]

I greatly appreciate Darcy as a friend and as a colleague.  She always has a new idea, an interesting insight or some wonderful tidbit or tip to share.  In fact, I haven't told her, but I am toying with idea of a feature on the blog based on her delightful finds.  The most recent one she shared with me is Natalie Merchant's inspiring new CD, Leave Your Sleep, an ode to poetry's presence, power and purpose in our lives. Merchant has recorded songs based on poems, but also researched these poems and their poets with attentiveness and respect.  The CD comes with a wonderful book that includes the poets' biographies as well as their works.
Thanks to Darcy for being my first Teacher Testimony and for always providing such encouragement to me in big things and small!

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