Teachers & Students: The Heart of the Community--Carter Latendresse

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Middle School language arts

"Everything I ask them to do, I do"

From the Spring 2010 Caller

In my classroom I think about the kids a lot. I like and understand the middle school-aged kid. I’m excited to be part of early adolescents’ transition from concrete to abstract thinking. They’re able to say, “I come from here, and my parents come from there, and maybe this affects the way I see things.”

Self-consciousness peaks in 8th grade. It’s really painful to watch. I try to protect them from an invasion of “I want to be cool, I don’t look good, I don’t say the right things.” I help them see that body image is a product of the media, and we work to analyze the media to give them tools that will help them accept themselves and accept diversity in others. We learn how “normal” is a fallacy. What’s important for middle school teachers is understanding the role of hormones and the way the kids are changing, and liking them and being their ally.
Middle school teaching is not an accident. We become middle school teachers because we understand and love the kids we’re working with. We want them to grow, accept themselves, and become great community members who have integrity and honesty.
I come to my class with the idea that the kids and I are in a community of readers and writers. I share my reading and writing with my students. They see that it’s not just something we do for the curriculum, but that it’s a real part of life.
I try to create other situations where we grow as a community. I include everyone’s voice in writing examples. I share my own life and talk about my own bad decisions in middle school. I talk about my relationship with my son, who is developmentally disabled. I want them to see me as a person who struggles, like they do. I have firm convictions, but I have good and bad days, just like them. None of us is perfect, but it’s important we try to improve ourselves every day.
My relationship with kids out of the classroom is also important. I love being a coach in cross country and running with them. Everything I ask them to do, I do. Every writing assignment I give them, I’ve done first. If I ask them to run a mile and a half at full speed, I do it with them. If I work hard alongside them, they’re more willing to push themselves. I also work right beside them in the garden, and I have the blisters on my hands to prove it. They see that I do everything with them.
I can be a goofball in class, and make faces and noises. I’m part actor, part comedian, part strict rule-setter, and part editor. You just have to be really flexible.
Teachers at Catlin Gabel try to see themselves in the kids’ places, and we want students to experience what others are experiencing. Teachers here are artists, scientists, athletes, parents, and writers. We have passions outside of school that we bring to school, just like our students do. We want our students to see that their teachers are growing, learning, and changing. We also see that our students are engaged in the making of their lives in a way that is dramatic and inspiring. The people here are therefore evolving together, in community.
Carter Latendresse has taught 6th grade language arts and coached middle school cross country at Catlin Gabel for three years. He previously taught at Seabury Hall in Hawaii. He’s a graduate of the University of Washington with a master’s in English.