"Dangerous Minds" author offers advice to PSEA members
“The primary lesson I always try to teach my students is you choose who you are. You can throw up your hands and blame everyone in the world and say, I can't earn an A, I can't do this, I have to do that.
"You don't have to do anything. You don't have to come to school. You choose to be here. Now you can choose to learn, or you can choose to vegetate."
Keynote speaker LouAnne Johnson emphasized this message as she addressed PSEA Department of Pupil Services (DPS) members who attended this year's DPS Conference in State College.
During the presentation, Johnson entertained the audience with stories from her days of teaching underprivileged tough teenagers in East Palo Alto, CA. Johnson attributes her success as a teacher to the “unteachable” students who taught her how to teach them.
Johnson, an educator, writer, and former U.S. Marine, is best known for her memoir about teaching at-risk teens, "My Posse Don't Do Homework." The book was adapted for the 1995 hit movie "Dangerous Minds" starring Michelle Pfeiffer.
Johnson’s style was to encourage students, rather than condemn them, persuade rather than threaten, and earn respect, rather than demand it. Her constant support and unorthodox teaching strategies instituted a phenomenal success rate in her students with a first place ranking in higher grade point averages, increased self-esteem, academic achievement, and class retention.
“If you believe that you are going to fail, all of the testing in the world won’t change that. Your perception of yourself and how you see yourself is so important. When students believe success is possible they will try,” Johnson said. “How do you make them care about education? You convince them that you care about them, and then they care about themselves.”
Johnson started the school year by giving all of her students an A, so they could focus on keeping the grade, rather than to start with nothing.
"I think that came across in the movie, that there is hope - that you're not a victim,” Johnson told the audience. “I gave them amnesty. A clean slate when they came to my room. They could choose the kind of person they wanted to be.”
Johnson expressed her frustration over policymakers focusing too much attention on standardized testing.
“Politicians need to start making policies that are in the best interest of the child and not in the best interest of corporations. We need to focus on the heart, and then we would do better. I think we should pass a bill called “No Politicians Left Behind” and make them take a test, and if they don’t pass they get remedial training.”
Johnson is also the author of several other books dealing with education, including, "Teaching Outside the Box: How to Grab Your Students By Their Brains," "The Queen of Education: Rules for Making Education Work," and "Kick-Start Your Class: Academic Icebreakers to Engage Students."
Pictured: LouAnne Johnson speaking to DPS members at the 2013 PSEA Department of Pupil Services Conference in State College.