BY THE LEE COUNTY LISTENER
LEE COUNTY —
The Lee County Listener published the newest installment of its Education Series Monday, March 6. Hosts Sam DiChiara and Garrett Martinez sat down with Katherine Apel, a history teacher at Opelika Middle School. Below is an excerpt from their conversation, edited for brevity and clarity.
We’ve talked about ChatGPT, Chromebooks and technology [in general]. Why does teaching still need to be in person?
Because they give up if it’s not. … They need someone to hold them and say, “You need to listen. This is important to you.” Some of the kids don’t care, but I told them, “I do, though.” I had a kid recently who was like, “I’ll just get a zero.” I said, “I’m not going to let you get a zero. If you need to come back every day during P.E. to write this essay, I’m going to do that.”
And a lot of it is just tough love. They need consequences. … Who wants to be punished or [deal with] boundaries? But they need that. And they really, actually crave that because, when it’s not there, it’s just crazy. And they need to know that someone is on their side — someone to say, “If it’s up to me, you’re not just going to get a zero, because I care about it and I know someone at home cares about it. You’re in sixth grade. It’s too early to give up.”
At the end of the day, they’re 12, and they’re just learning how to be a human, and so they need this support. They’re learning how to do it themselves, but they need someone to show them how to do that.
That reminds me of something Tiffany Gibson, the final guest of our Black History Month series, talked about [regarding] her time as a school counselor. There are a lot of kids who just have this view that the people who work at the school are people who tell them what to do, and they do it, or they get a bad grade and they get in trouble.
[But] there’s this other perception that [the faculty and staff] want them to come to understand — that these are people who have dedicated their whole careers and lives to helping [them] grow and thrive, and they actually want to see it happen. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always register, and I agree that being there in person together helps with that.
And it’s hard when — I had one kid who I think was boxed as “the bad kid” in fourth and fifth grade. And I think when you’ve been that for so long, you’re just like, “Well, I’m going to take pride in it. I’m the bad kid.” The thing is, he’s not. I feel like I have a pretty strong connection with the kids that are like that because I’m like, “This is not you.”
And I have one kid, [whatever I tell him, he says,] “Huh? Huh?” And I just told him, “This is a front, and I know it is. You are smart and you’re pretending like you don’t know anything.” And he just started laughing because he knows it’s true. And ever since then, he’s been fine. …
You give them that extra attention [and say], “Hey, I see this in you. And I like you.” They need that. … I remind them almost every day, “You’re choosing who you want to be. … This is an amazing opportunity that you have, and so we need to be thoughtful about how we act and what we’re doing [both] in school [and] outside of school.”
Listeners can find the “Lee County Listener” podcast at Lee County Listener on Facebook and on Spotify.