Teacher Tribute
Having the courage to tell her story

Kathie Wainwright opens up to her students

Recently, in the middle of a Need in Deed peer sharing session with her colleagues, it suddenly hit her. “I will be my own guest speaker!”

As a first year member of NID’s Teacher Network, Kathie Wainwright is just learning how a service-learning project comes together – an advantage in that she brings a fresh perspective to the process.

She was describing to fellow teachers her search for the ideal community partner to invite to her classroom. The class had chosen “violence” as the focus for their project and she was learning from NID program staff about the power of a “real-life story” – a speaker who shares a personal connection with the social issue – to ignite student interest and motivation. It occurred to Kathie her own story might do just that. When she had just turned 4, her father got into an argument with another man at a gas station.

“He was a hot head,” Kathie says, recounting family lore. “So he got into a fist fight with the man who later returned with a gun, then shot and killed my father, [who was in his early 20’s].

It was an emotional session, for the students and their teacher.

“I don’t think I ever mourned my father’s loss until that moment,” she explains. “It was a special moment for me and my students.”

Sitting in on one of Kathie’s classes recently, one could sense the level of trust that exchanges such as this have fostered between her and her students. On this particular day she created an activity in which she invited students to respond to a series of prompts, such as: “What do you think causes someone to punch, kick, stab or fire a gun at someone else?” The 6th graders answered with surprising candor.

“A lot of my students come from single-parent families,” says Kathie. “I wanted to show them that I’m human, that I’ve gone through some of the same things they have and look what I’ve become.”