I Stopped Teaching Math and I Started Teaching Kids...

Posted by AVID Center on 6/27/2014

Anthony Anthony Ritz was the teacher speaker at this year’s Summer Institute in Dallas, TX. Below is his speech as prepared. You can also watch his speech here!

Good afternoon.

Before I begin, please take out a piece of paper and crinkle it up.

Now, I have a few people I would like to thank before I begin.

I want to thank my April Friends, Denise Wren, Stacie Valdez, Tim Bugno, and AVID staff for this and many opportunities I have had. I want to thank my colleagues in USD 259, from Wichita, Kansas, especially my DD Rob Compton, Leroy Parks, and Eric Filippi for getting me involved in AVID. My parents are here, with 60 service years in education between them: Thank you for having me. Some of my AVID students are here as well; they are really the reason why I am up here today. Heidi, Tanya, Sam, and Travis, for coming here to support me, you are my family, too. And finally, I want to thank Tom Noonan, my work husband. He was the other AVID teacher, and we went through this journey together. We went through this journey together, and without him, it would not have been as much fun or possible.

Sitting in a café on a Sunday afternoon, I received a text message that changed my life. I’ll tell you how in a minute.

I have taught for nine years and just completed my first loop with AVID students, from freshman year to senior year. In the beginning, I taught math. I had a pacing guide to get through, and students needed to stay caught up with me. I believed sleeping in class was disrespectful and excuses were hollow. Then, the AVID Program happened.

My AVID journey began where you are: I attended Summer Institute and listened to my staff developer, named Central Hicks, in Implementation. I learned the how-to on notes, tutorials, and all other expected AVID strategies. But of all the things he taught me, nothing stuck more than the following: “You will become like a parent to these students.” My initial reaction was, “Uh, no. I do not want to be anyone’s parent. I want to go to school, do my stuff, grade, and go home. These students have parents. They do not need some other guy to be their parent.” I was an academic coach, not a parent. I was firm in my decision.

When I first met my freshmen, I told them we were in this for four years. Some students recall that I yelled, “FOUR YEARS!” at them, but I think that’s revisionist history. Here is what happened: I taught the mechanics of the AVID curriculum: how to take notes, do tutorials, WICOR strategies. I facilitated conversation through Philosophical Chairs. I told them to go to class, to get their homework turned in. We checked grades. I did what I needed to do to keep my job.

Then, I started being a teacher. I advocated for them. I had discussions with colleagues who told my students they did not belong in honors classes. I held students as they cried about the pressures at home and school. We celebrated new relationships, and I told them it would be okay when it ended. We celebrated a new citizenship. When they became juniors, I made breakfast before the ACT®. I told them not to drink and drive at prom and to make smart decisions. If you make adult choices, there will be adult consequences. We had fun. We laughed. We had intelligent conversations about race and gender. I watched children become young adults. And I was lucky enough to see their realization that their college dreams were becoming realities each time they shared an admission letter from a college or university. Happily, I can report each of my students is attending a postsecondary institution, many of whom are not paying a penny out of pocket because of scholarships.

The text message I received on that Sunday afternoon was from an AVID student: “Mr. Ritz, I realized that today is Father’s Day. And I thought about all the things you do for me and for us. And you love us no matter what we do, kind of like a father. I just wanted to say thank you.” First, I panicked and thought, “No. It’s too much. I can’t be that. I’m not worthy enough to be that.” Second, I realized it was too late. But then, I realized why it was okay.

After numerous AVID Professional Learning opportunities I attended, I realized that I am a changed teacher. Being an elective teacher in this program has made me kinder, more open to all struggling students, and made me be a better teacher by being a better person. I stopped teaching math, and started teaching kids. AVID is not about just a curriculum, notes, and tutorials. AVID is about transforming yourself and your belief system into something amazing. With AVID strategies, you can guide students to believe in who they are and teach them the tools they need to succeed in their college dreams.

Take your paper and unfold it; make it unwrinkled again. You can’t. Each of those wrinkles represents an experience that has changed you in some way. We bring our wrinkles into our classroom. Our students bring their wrinkles into our classrooms. Those wrinkles are the sleeping student who you find out babysat his siblings while his mom was at work or the girl who works 40 hours a week to support herself. It’s the student who is too afraid to ask how to do something because most of his or her life they have been told they cannot do it. 

AVID teaches students that those experiences make them who they are and not to fear those wrinkles, but to use them as motivation for the future. AVID and its strategies are the way to student success. AVID teaches students to use their wrinkles and become amazing. 

Here’s what my students did with their wrinkles in four years: one is a state violist; the vice president of the student body; the marching band’s drum major; one of the best baseball infielders in the city; managing editor of the yearbook; a nationally recognized photographer; the best soccer forward in the city, region, and state; captains of the varsity basketball, softball, and volleyball teams; two of three students who scored a “4” on the AP® US History test; a state recognized artist; three full rides to colleges, plus many scholarships to offset their costs. All of which, in my opinion, is amazing.

My hope today was to remind you about what we do and why it matters. Being a teacher is not about a calling or a paycheck. It is about being honored with students we have the privilege to interact with daily. It is not about our pride or us being proud of them; it is about recognizing and supporting their choices, their beliefs, and keeping your fingers crossed that as they move on in their journeys and their lives, that something you did, said, or the love and care you surrounded them with, made a difference.

Thank you.