“Do you believe in me?” 5th grader Dalton Sherman inspires Dallas teachers

August 26, 2008

Update, September 19, 2008: Dalton was scheduled to appear on Ellen Degeneres’s program on Thursday, September 18; did you see it? What do you think?

Taylor Mali is one of my usual suspects for inspiring teachers. He does a great job, with just a tinge of profanity (appropriately placed, many teachers argue – if they ask for it, you have to give it to them).

This year’s inspiration for Dallas teachers comes from Dalton Sherman, a fifth grader at Charles Rice Learning Center. Here’s a YouTube video of the presentation about 20,000 of us watched last Wednesday, a small point that redeemed the annual “convocation” exercise, for 2008:

Sherman’s presentation rescued what had been shaping up as another day of rah-rah imprecations to teachers who badly wanted, and in my case needed, to be spending time putting classrooms together.

(By the way, at the start of his presentation, you can see several people leap to their feet in the first row — Mom, Dad, and older brother. Nice built-in cheering section.)

Staff at DISD headquarters put the speech together for Dalton to memorize, and he worked over the summer to get it down. This background is wonderfully encouraging.

First, it makes a statement that DISD officials learn from mistakes. Last year the keynote was given by a speaker out of central casting’s “classic motivational speaker” reserves. As one teacher described it to me before the fete last Wednesday, “It was a real beating.”

Second, DISD’s planning ahead to pull this off suggests someone is looking a little bit down the road. This was a four or five month exercise for a less-than-10 minute presentation. It’s nice to know someone’s looking ahead at all.

Third, the cynical teachers gave Dalton Sherman a warm standing ovation. That it was delivered by a 10-year-old kids from DISD made a strong symbol. But the content was what hooked the teachers. Superintendent Michael Hinojosa provided a death-by-PowerPoint presentation leading up to the speech, one that was probably not designed solely as contrasting lead in. In other words, Dalton Sherman’s speech demonstrated as nothing else the district has done lately that someone downtown understands that the teachers count, the foot soldiers in our war on ignorance and jihad for progress.

The kids came back Monday, bless ’em. School’s in session, to anyone paying attention.

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