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Voices from Classroom: Ludlow’s Chris Wright says ‘challenge students to make world more awesome’

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By Chris Wright
Ludlow High School

Over the course of the past nine years, I have had the distinct pleasure of teaching and coaching at Ludlow High School. Early in my career, I received two very different pieces of advice from colleagues. One colleague gave me the age old advice of not letting the kids see me smile until Christmas, while the other related that if I built relationships with the kids they would run through a brick wall for me. Luckily for me, I took up the latter.

As a young teacher, I literally didn’t know what I didn’t know. I suppose ignorance was a sort of bliss in that way. All I could really do was be myself.

Working to keep my head above water as a first year teacher, I was also appointed our school’s head track and field coach.

Chris Wright on Day 1 of Year 8 at Ludlow High School.

Here is what I knew about track and field entering that first year: 1) how to throw a shot put, 2) how to throw a discus, 3) nothing, I knew nothing else.

The way that I saw things, I had two options, which in retrospect were very similar to the two pieces of advice my colleagues had given me. Option one was to be the authority figure, pretend that I knew everything, and not allow anyone else to tell me otherwise. Option two was to learn as much as I could, take input from others (I luckily had two great assistants and strong upper-class leadership), and admit that there were times where we needed to work through things together as a team.

It was an incredible relief to have a group of kids that were willing to be patient, listen, and make suggestions for the benefit of the team. Kids are incredibly perceptive, and had I tried to play the authoritarian, they would have seen right through the façade and I would have lost the team. Instead, we were able to truly work together and build bonds that still last with many of us to this day. As I learned the support, I was able to give better, honest advice. While honesty is often difficult to hear, it is made all the more palatable when the party being honest with you is honest with themselves.

At the beginning of every school year, I like to show a video titled “Pep Talk” by Kid President. The message of the video is simple, asking viewers what they will do to make the world more awesome (see below). I ask my students to write and reflect on that premise. This is one of my favorite assignments of the year, as it gives me an early glimpse into who each student is as a person. To my knowledge, no student has ever set forth the objective to “make Mr. Wright’s world more awesome” but that is exactly what all of my students have done.

Fundraiser in honor of the teacher

In December of 2011, I was diagnosed with a very rare form of Vasculitis called Wegener’s Granulomatosis. Long story short, I became extremely ill and had to spend several weeks either in a coma or in a state that was far from lucid. I was very lucky to survive the ordeal. This illness took a tremendous toll on my body, leaving me unable to walk and unable to breath without supplemental oxygen. I was told that I very likely would not be returning to school that year. My students came through to provide my motivation.

When I awoke from this ordeal I was given an oversized garbage bag full of cards and letters that the students of Ludlow had made for me. The tributes were anywhere from incredibly touching, to laugh out loud funny (one student wrote a card that simply said I needed to get my rear out of bed and come teach them). Knowing what I would be able to come back to, and having direct evidence of what I meant to the students and what they meant to me, I pushed as hard as a could through my rehab. This was a grueling and painful process, but I always had those letters to fall back on if I needed a boost. I returned to teach at the end of January of that school year.

In the fall of 2015, I wanted to raise money for the Cleveland Clinic, one of the world leaders in the research of Wegener’s disease. I decided to run a half-marathon in hopes of raising a few hundred dollars. My students had bigger plans. Without my knowing, my students designed and sold t-shirts to supplement my fundraiser, revealing that they had raised over $1,750 at a surprise pep rally. Whoever said that Ludlow kids would run through a brick wall for you was only partially correct; Ludlow kids will do so much more.

As a teacher, it is natural to question what sort of an impact you are having on your students; while not everyone will be as lucky as I have been to be the recipient of such a grandiose gesture, I promise your impact on students is immense. Even if it isn’t always stated, you are greatly appreciated.

I keep thinking back to that original advice I was given and considering what my advice to a new teacher would be.

If I could pass on what has worked for me, I would say this: be yourself, be honest, challenge your students to make the world more awesome.

More often than not, they will rise to the challenge.

Chris Wright is an 8th/9th English Teacher at Ludlow High School where he coaches track and field, cross country, and freshman basketball.  He is a Co-Director of the Northern Kentucky Writing Project and is currently earning his doctorate in Leadership Studies from Xavier University.

Voices from the Classroom is a new weekly feature at NKyTribune, thanks to Beechwood teacher Amanda Klare’s initiative. If you are a teacher and would like to contribute to the column, please submit it to judy@nkytrib.com

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PEP TALK FROM KID PRESIDENT

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