GOSHEN — A survivor of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting where 17 students and teachers were killed in February told local educators on Monday they should not be afraid to throw out their lesson plan on occasion.

“I’m not saying all the time, but just be willing to let that conversation wander and you will be able to get to know your students so much better,” Indiana University alumna Katherine Posada told administrators and teachers with Goshen Community Schools during their annual opening-day ceremony at Goshen High School auditorium.

Classes in Goshen begin Wednesday.

Posada, an English teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, focused on sharing lessons she’s learned this past year that she believes will serve as helpful tips for any teacher in a classroom as well as administrators.

The first lesson Posada shared is that the text from books is important – but not the most important.

“These kids are never going to get a job because they read ‘Macbeth’ in 10th grade,” she said.

Of critical value, she said, were the experiences teachers share with students in their classrooms.

Since February’s shooting, Posada said, many of the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas have refused to be silent and stepped out of their comfort zone to raise their voice and let their message be heard.

These are lessons teachers prepare students for every day, she said, and ones teachers can use to lay the foundation for students to achieve their goals.

“You give them opportunities to discuss things and more importantly to disagree about things with respect,” she told the crowd. “You give them the opportunity to be heard and build their confidence. You give them the opportunity to fail and more importantly the opportunity to get back up again and try later. … You challenge them, provide safe spaces for them to discuss things that they care about and those are the most important things to teach your children in the classroom. You are teaching those things every day by the opportunities that you provide them whether you are a kindergarten teacher or 12th-grade teacher.”

Another tip she shared with the teachers is to never compare themselves with each other, a mistake she made when she first became a teacher.

“It’s a mistake to judge yourself by others because everyone has their own strengths,” she said. “What my classroom looks like and just because my teaching style is not the same as someone else doesn’t mean it isn’t just as good nor does it mean it’s any better or worse.”

Posada said the most important thing a teacher can be is themselves.

“Your students need you to be genuine and they need you to be authentic and so just be the teacher that you need to be,” she said.

Posada said she’s a planner and likes to know what’s going to happen in advance, but said sometimes things don’t go according to plan.

She cited two examples: when south Florida was hit by Hurricane Irma in September of 2017, closing her school district for two weeks, and the February shooting which caused the school to lose another two weeks of instructional time.

When her students returned to school after the shooting, Posada said, rather than jumping back into the curriculum, she and her class played games and talked about whatever was on their minds. She said this allowed her to connect with her students in a way she never had before and also helped improve her teaching style.

“When we got back into the curriculum, I sort of let the conversation wander a little more than I normally would before because I really enjoyed the opportunity to get to know what my students were passionate about, what they thought about things and they did learn through that process,” she said. “Maybe what they learned wasn’t going to be on the next test, but they learned those life skills of talking about things with their peers and what’s important to them.”

After the ceremony, Goshen Superintendent Diane Woodworth said the district invited Posada to speak to the staff after seeing news reports of her speaking to a group of IU teacher candidates last spring.

Overall, Woodworth said she was impressed with Posada’s address and believes it resonated well with the Goshen teachers and staff.

“I think it’s good to have a teacher who can relate to our teachers who’s had this experience and see what they can learn from her,” she said.

BACK TO SCHOOL

Area school districts are scheduled to resume classes starting this week:

•  Goshen Community Schools, Aug. 8

• Baugo Community Schools, Aug. 9

• Fairfield Community Schools, Aug. 10

• Concord Community Schools, Aug. 15

• Middlebury Community Schools, Aug. 15

• Wa-Nee Community Schools, Aug. 15

• Elkhart Community Schools, Aug. 16

• Penn Harris-Madison School Corp., Aug. 22

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