Pixel Tracker

Saturday, December 15 , 2018, 1:44 am | Fair 41º

 
 
 
 

Bill Cirone: Teacher of Year Substitutes ‘Dreadful’ Words to Inspire Students

Desa Marie Mandarino of San Marcos gives renewed meaning to stale concepts

Recently, Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year Desa Marie Mandarino of San Marcos High School gave a wonderful speech at our annual Teachers Network Awards Banquet. Her focus was an admonition to students that, “Time plus effort equals success.” Surely there is no more truthful or meaningful equation in the realm of the classroom.

Some of her other points struck me as profound on several levels. Most involved her use of words to highlight larger truths.

The reality is that sometimes words get stale and lose their power. They are shortcuts to larger meanings and can in time become substitutes for that meaning. When we tire of the word, we can lose sight of what it represents.

Desa Mandarino
Desa Mandarino

Mandarino made that point when she said she discovered there were “dreadful and ugly words that our teens did not want to hear.” Some of those words were: “homework,” “write an essay” and even the word “student.” But clearly these are essential activities and concepts.

Her solution was to retain the underlying meaning of the word by glorifying it. What an elegant route to take. So her “students” became “scholars.” After all, that’s what a student is, but how much more glamorous it sounds — and how much more respectful the person using such a word comes to be. This only works, of course, if you mean it sincerely — and Mandarino is a believer to her core.

In her classroom, “homework” became “evening studies.” You can almost hear the music playing and the soft breeze wafting. Instead of a chore, those studies became positive experiences. Even her classroom “homework tray,” where assignments are dispensed, became her “Fiesta basket,” because in her mind “time plus effort” and learning itself became things that deserve a celebration.

Rather than directing her students to “write an essay,” Mandarino enables them to become essayists. Rather than giving oral presentations, they become orators.

“You are what you do,” Mandarino asserts. She insists that the young people in her classroom aren’t just “human beings,” but “human becomings,” and sees it as her role to guide, mentor, inspire and teach.

It would be easy for critics to dismiss this approach as corny or contrived, but the results — and test scores — speak for themselves. Rarely will you see more engaged and enthusiastic scholars than those who grace her classrooms. That’s because Mandarino focuses not on stale words and concepts, but the glorious, beautiful underpinnings of those words that reveal the larger truth behind them. The scholars know the difference — teenagers are adept at spotting hollow gestures from a mile away. And it’s clear from everything Mandarino does and says that she means these things to her core.

I certainly do not want to belittle Mandarino’s masterful professionalism by focusing on just one small arrow in her quiver of exceptional instructional strategies. She is a master teacher in every sense of the word.

“The prize is in proportion to the effort,” she tells her students. Then she lives it.

The focus on reinvigorated words, however, struck me as a useful tool in many arenas. Certainly this is well-known and practiced in the political arena — where weapons are dubbed “peacekeeping missiles,” wealthy people become “job creators” and taxes become “revenue enhancements.” These techniques wouldn’t be used if they didn’t work effectively.

It seems that our public discourse could benefit from a shifting of focus, especially in these times of such strife and discord. We could all learn to replace the words that have become so polarizing, and focus instead on our shared values, goals and humanity. Think of the strides we could make simply by reframing our arguments into positive discussions.

It’s a solution worth trying on many levels. And the prize will be in proportion to the effort, as Mandarino would say.

— Bill Cirone is Santa Barbara County’s superintendent of schools.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Email
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership
×

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.