Teacher Tribute
"Twenty-Two Little Light Bulbs Blinking"

Students Find Littering Issue Goes Deeper Than Street Level

If there’s one thing that Alissa Oltman has gotten used to as a Need in Deed teacher, it’s being constantly surprised by her 4th grade students at Strawberry Mansion’s W.D. Kelley Elementary School.

When her principal first recommended that she and a colleague apply to join NID’s Teacher Network, Alissa was excited but also a little hesitant about the process. “What if my students brought up something that was uncomfortable? Or awkward? Or just plain sad?” she wondered.

As the students explored issues they saw in their school and neighborhood, there were difficult conversations. But Alissa soon realized that she was well-prepared to guide her students thanks to the training and support she is receiving from NID and her fellow Network teachers. “It’s not just about the core competencies. It’s about real world connections.”

After discussing a number of potential topics, the students settled on littering, which surprised Alissa at first. “I didn’t think they cared about littering, because I see students litter all the time.” But walking together through the neighborhood, Alissa and her students “realized there was something deeper going on. They were upset about the trash,” and the message it sends about the community.

“During our walk, one of the boys said he felt embarrassed by his neighborhood and wished we could change it. I told him that we would work as a class to figure out how we can help,” Alissa said. “That comment was a heartbreaker!”

Talking with the students, it is clear that this is a class on a mission: they are learning everything they can about litter and its impact on the environment; they are going to share what they learn with other students and community members; and they are going to “unlitter” their neighborhood.

With impassioned ideas flying around the classroom – “We’re going to do a trash clean up!” “We can present to other classes!” “Let’s reuse our old t-shirts and make posters with our messages!” “What about a recycling contest?!” – Alissa was obviously proud of her students.

“Whether or not my 4th grade class can actually make a difference regarding the littering situation, what I see is 22 little light bulbs blinking, and that hope is what truly matters.”

Having a teacher who recognizes and celebrates the changes she sees in her students, and who hopes so strongly for them to succeed? That truly matters, too.

Alissa Oltman won the Need in Deed My Voice web award in November.