Education

Business leaders try their hand at teaching for a day

Baptist Health government and community relations director Christie Grays helps student De'Andre Blackmon, 17, while teaching for a day on Friday at Norland Senior High during a Teach-A-Thon fundraiser, October 29, 2016.
Baptist Health government and community relations director Christie Grays helps student De'Andre Blackmon, 17, while teaching for a day on Friday at Norland Senior High during a Teach-A-Thon fundraiser, October 29, 2016. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

Joe Atkinson is used to speaking in public. As Well Fargo’s South Florida region president, Atkinson oversees a large team of people. But the first time Atkinson got up in front of a group of eighth graders, he didn’t quite know what to expect.

“It was a little nerve-wracking,” Atkinson said of his experience teaching an eighth grade math class at Ada Merritt K-8 Center last year for the annual Teach-A-Thon, a fundraiser for local schools. “I had this vision that the kids were going to be having side conversations, but it was far from that.”

Instead, one of the students asked Atkinson to explain the federal fund rate. So when Atkinson went back to the class this year, he was more concerned about fielding questions he might not be able to answer.

“I have a deeper appreciation for all the teachers I had and for my children’s teachers as well,” he said.

Atkinson is one of more than 280 business people and other professionals participating in this year’s Teach-A-Thon, which aims to raise awareness about the challenges teachers face and the need to compensate them fairly. Volunteers team up with Miami-Dade teachers to plan a lesson and teach a class at a local school, and ask their friends and family to sponsor them with donations.

Instead of seeing how many miles you can walk, it’s to see how many minutes you can walk in the shoes of a teacher.

Linda Lecht, president of The Education Fund

“We really believe that we need to invest in the teachers and the teaching workforce,” said Linda Lecht, president of local nonprofit The Education Fund, which organizes the fundraiser. “Instead of seeing how many miles you can walk, it’s to see how many minutes you can walk in the shoes of a teacher.”

On Friday morning, Penny Shaffer, market president of health insurance company Florida Blue, was walking in the shoes of North Miami Beach Senior High School teacher Xiomara Ramos.

Shaffer’s lesson was on the U.S. health insurance system, and although her teaching tools were a little old fashioned — she eschewed the classroom’s high-tech Promethean board in favor of a regular whiteboard — Shaffer quickly proved a natural at teaching.

By the end of the class, Shaffer had explained the Affordable Care Act and technological innovations like portable cellphone-sized EKG monitors and an app to help patients find cheaper prescription medicines to a rapt audience of juniors and seniors in the school’s health care program.

“I know some of you are going, ‘There is no way grandma is using an app,’” she joked, and the students laughed.

At Miami Norland Senior High School later that morning, Christie Grays was also getting a taste of teaching.

As sophomores, juniors and seniors filed into Precious Symonette’s creative writing class, Grays greeted them with a handshake.

“Hi gentlemen, I’m Christie,” she said to two young men.

Grays, director of government and community relations at Baptist Health South Florida, was modeling firm handshakes, one of her tips for networking, the subject of her lesson. “I have to network a lot,” she told the class, launching into a PowerPoint presentation on developing an elevator pitch, making small talk, and other networking tips.

As the students bent over their desks to read an article that related networking to the high school experience (Tip #1: “Eat lunch at a different table each day”), Symonette quietly shared teaching advice with Grays.

“Your PowerPoint was great because you weren’t in front of them for too long,” Symonette said. “Because the research shows that if you’re standing in front of them too long you lose them.”

I wasn’t aware of the preparation. I thought it was just, ‘Ok, we’re going to be in chapter one this week.’

Christie Grays, director of government and community relations at Baptist Health South Florida

Symonette and Grays had designed the lesson together over the phone and via e-mail. Grays said what most surprised her about teaching was all of the planning that goes into a single class.

“I wasn’t aware of the preparation,” said Grays. “I thought it was just, ‘Ok, we’re going to be in chapter one this week,’” she said, laughing.

Lecht from The Education Fund said this is something she hears a lot from volunteers, who are often surprised by the amount of work teachers put into preparing their classes. One volunteer last year told her that it took him eight hours to plan his lesson, while another said he learned how difficult it was to present the material in a way that keeps kids engaged.

“That's our message to the business professionals,” said Lecht. “Do you want our children to be able to perform and compete in this global economy? If we do, we need to invest in our teaching workforce.”

Last year, The Education Fund raised $75,000 and this year they are aiming for $100,000. Half of the money goes toward field trips, supplies and other classroom expenses for participating teachers, and the other half goes to The Education Fund’s teacher support program. The fundraiser was held for the first time in 2005, but this year’s is the biggest one yet with Wells Fargo alone contributing 75 volunteers as the fundraiser’s main sponsor.

The Teach-A-Thon started in late September and runs through early December, finishing with a Taste of Education celebration on Feb. 9 sponsored by Sapoznik Insurance that features student chefs.

So far, Lecht said everyone has survived their teaching experience. “We haven't had anyone run shrieking from the school yet.”

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