By Kenny McKee
When I last saw my teacher superhero, Erica Battle, I noticed a faded yellow sticky note taped on her water bottle. On the note, she had written the words influence, love, and change. When I asked her about it, she said, “They’re good reminders.”
Erica has boundless energy and a wealth of knowledge. She bursts into any room. People are drawn to her. When we taught together, I would meet with Erica after the dismissal bell on most days. We would reflect on our successes and struggles. Erica would always provide suggestions about what I could try. She never approaches any situation as if it is impossible.
Erica thrives on experimenting with new strategies to help the students who struggle most. When she heard a team of math teachers planned to implement outcome-based assessment in their classrooms, she asked to join them—even though she taught English. Now, because of her work, other English teachers in the district are beginning to use outcome-based assessment in their classes. Erica inspires her colleagues, and, as a result of working with her, they become powerfully focused on how to become better teachers and learners. She always knows how to reframe the “What I am going to teach?” conversation into a “What (and how) are students going to learn?” conversation.
Students love being in Erica’s classes. When I asked her how she develops such good rapport with students, she said, “I think I look at each of them as a person, a human—not necessarily always as a student. They have a history. They have interests. They have feelings.”
Erica openly shares her own challenges and failures with students in order to show them the power of improvement and growth, rather than using challenges as reasons to quit. She says that in all of her actions, she wants to communicate that she cares about them and that school is a safe place for them. Erica works with many students who have difficult life situations and poor school performance histories. She realizes that those circumstances make trusting adults difficult. She works through the misbehaviors and pessimistic attitudes students use to protect themselves. According to Erica, “A lot of kids will want to reject you first. You have to give them respect from the get-go.”
Erica embraces change because she loves learning. She says, “I learn as much from the kids as they learn from me. Each day, each period is totally new—you never know what’s going to happen. It’s scary, but it’s also exciting.” Erica knows that change is a powerful force in her own life. In her time as an educator, she has worn many hats. She has transitioned from teaching elementary students to middle school students to high school students. She was also an instructional coach for several years. All of those roles give Erica a unique perspective on how students change on their journey to adulthood—from exploring their initial curiosity about the world to discovering their identities to anticipating and preparing for the adult world.
Students learn that positive change can transform their lives and society as a whole when they are in Erica’s classes. If only each of us could spend more time there.
Erica, you are an inspiration. Thank you for sharing your gifts with your students and colleagues. We all can benefit when we focus on creating influence, love, and change.
Kenny McKee is a high school literacy coach for Buncombe County Schools in Asheville, N.C. He is a 2014 ASCD Emerging Leader. His teacher superhero, Erica Battle, is an English teacher at Community High School in Swannanoa, N.C.