Congratulations Mrs. Bouchard – CCSD NewsmakerOct 17th, 2012
Veteran speech teacher sticks to the basics to prep kids for the future
by Anthony Springer, Jr., CCSD Communications
On an unusually warm Tuesday October morning, students in the Advanced Technologies Academy’s Speech I class are busy writing in their journals to begin the period. The instructor walks past, checking students’ work. She praises the ones who have the formatting down, gently reminds others to skip one line or capitalize an ‘O’ here and there. Within minutes, the exercise is over and the day’s lesson begins.
The eye for detail belongs to Lara Bouchard. After 21 years with the District, 19 at A-TECH, Bouchard has more than earned her reputation as “that teacher,” the one who demands and accepts nothing less than a student’s best effort. Make no mistake, there are no A’s for simply showing up. If a student walks away with an “A,” it’s an accomplishment.
“I have that reputation,” she says with a smile. “It hasn’t gone away and it hasn’t lightened up. I’m either that teacher that a student sees on their schedule and says ‘Oh no!’ or they have friends who take Speech and say it’s a good class.”
As many veteran teachers know, standing in front of a group of students year after year is more a calling than a career. And like many, teaching wasn’t originally in the cards for Bouchard who decided to give it a shot after completing three other areas of study in three years at Southern Utah University. After working in her senator’s press office in Washington, D.C., Bouchard was headed for a career in political broadcasting before deciding to stay in school for a fourth year to pick up a teaching certification. That decision led her to student teaching at Bonanza High School under the tutelage of Betty Sabo, the speech teacher at the time.
Sabo counseled Bouchard before essentially turning over the class to the future educator. Becoming the proverbial captain of the ship was all the college student needed to realize the classroom was where she needed to be.
“She worked with me until she felt [I was ready], then I took over. I was in charge and I got to make my own decisions. Betty Sabo laid a lot of the ground work for my mentality for teaching. I’ve been able to mold and modify that. When she turned the reins over to me, I liked that moment of independence and freedom to make the classroom what I wanted it to be.”
Two decades later, Bouchard is still using the set of tools Sabo gave her each day at A-TECH. Despite advances in technology that even the most innovative among us couldn’t have conceived when Bouchard began teaching, she still believes in the basics, much to the chagrin of her more tech savvy – and tech dependent – students.
“In here, I have dinosaurs and I like my dinosaurs,” she says in reference to her older Mac computers. “We have Internet but we use Word to type everything up. It forces them to get back to the basics. I have them hand-write their rough drafts first. ‘You’re going to make me hand-write this?’ Yes, you need to know there are margins on both sides of the page. You never know what you’ll be asked to do for a job.”
The protests over the basics usually come early in the year and tend to subside at the same time each year as well.
“The end of the first semester,” she says of when students begin to put their newly acquired skills together. “With the speeches I start out small, with one and a half or two minutes and they get longer. The moment they realize, ‘Hey I can do this,’ is probably the first time I ask them to dress professionally. We go over interview attire and I give them options. When they come dressed up and they’ve prepared and they look professional, their behavior changes. After that speech, they believe a lot more in themselves. They build up all the little skills that culminate in the presentation and the attire.”
New skills, inevitably, bring new challenges. Bouchard has become a master at walking the tightrope between healthy debate and unnecessary controversy in the classroom. Her students often give persuasive speeches and when dealing with the teenagers who have strong beliefs about certain topics, along with the skills to speak on said topic effectively, controversial subjects are likely to come up. She prefers to address any potential issues before they become actual issues.
“I have them narrow down to three topics they firmly believe in and put them in priority order. If there are some that are offensive or controversial, I will not allow them. It’s not appropriate to get up and persuade me to join your religion. You can talk about organized religion, but you can’t tell us we belong to the wrong one.”
The preemptive talks and thorough reading of topics and drafts before speech day prevents uncomfortable moments. In this aspect, Bouchard has the art of communication (and classroom management) down to a science. Still, after hundreds of students have come and gone, there’s always something new to learn.
“Even after 21 years, I learn something new that I can use to become better. It’s not like at 21 years I can do this with my eyes closed. I could, but I don’t. I try to diversify and change things up to make it more beneficial for the students.”
With many new teachers leaving the fold after four or five years, Bouchard says the little things can make the difference between longevity and burning out.
“Not that I’m the expert, but organization is key for a new teacher,” she says when asked what advice she’d give to a younger colleague. “It’s like an 8th grader transitioning into high school. New building, all teachers want something different. As soon as they start slipping they start slipping a lot. New teachers are kind of the same way. When I was a new teacher, there were so many things I had to manage. It keeps me sane right now. As a new teacher, have turn in baskets and pick up baskets. Little things that help me stay sane; they also help the kids because they know exactly where to go.”
At the end of the day, after all the speeches and hand-written first drafts and corrections, it’s all about the students.
“I love teaching and I love knowing I’m having an impact on the future. Every student that walks into my room, I look at as the future.”