Travis Wright discussed a life of difficult and rewarding experiences at the Marvin Center Tuesday night as part of GW’s ongoing Last Lecture series.
Wright, a professor in the Graduate School of Education and Human Development, imparted the most important lessons he has learned since entering the field of education. At the heart of his speech was his answer to the question posed by the late Carnegie-Mellon professor Randy Pausch, “If you knew this was the last lecture you’d ever give to an audience of students, what would you say to them?”
Wright told the assembled crowd that love is the most important thing you can give to your students.
“Love is the fertile ground in which dreams grow,” he said.
Wright told a story about a 12-year-old student named Ricardo who was severely retarded and could barely communicate. Ricardo would flip desks, threaten Wright and the other students, scream, run in and out of classroom and break and steal things.
Wright said he was frustrated by his inability to control Ricardo and the other students, so he first resorted to the advice of the school guidance counselor.
“Yell at the children when you really wanted them to pay attention and curse at them when you really meant business,” he explained.
Although this method was effective in controlling the children, Wright said he vomited everyday on the way to work “both because of what I would experience that day but also because of what I was perpetuating on those children.”
One day the method stopped working. Ricardo brought a club to school with intentions to beat Wright and was arrested. That night, Wright called Ricardo’s mother.
But instead of complaining about Ricardo, Wright apologized.
“I am so sorry that your child has to come to school every day and feel this way,” he recalled telling her. “I am so incredibly sorry that your child does not get the support that he needs that he feels so badly about himself that he wants to hurt me to make me feel as bad as I make him feel every day.”
During this conversation, Wright said he realized that he had spoken to the children in such an aggressive way because he loved them. When the student was aware that his teacher loved him, he stopped causing trouble in class.
“Our students should not guess about whether or not we love them,” Wright said. “We must love our students.”
He also told the stories of David, a 14-month-old whose dad has just abandoned him, and Majesty, a young girl who was born in jail and addicted to crack cocaine.
David loved Wright from the beginning, Wright remembered.
“He called me ‘dad’ for the first six months,” he said.
When he first met her, Majesty did not know how to communicate and was often ignored, Wright explained.
“One of the most magical moments in my entire life was the day that I heard Majesty laugh for the first time,” Wright said.
David and Majesty taught Wright his most valuable lesson, he said.
“Sometimes the world can get too big and you just need someone to take your hand. The first step is terrifying but it gets easier with every step that you take,” Wright said, ending his speech in tears.
Members of the audience were very receptive to Wright’s speech. Freshman Adriana Bautista said she not only enjoyed Wright’s presentation but she also thinks the “Last Lecture” series is a wonderful idea.
“It’s so nice to have a time slot beyond the classroom to hear life lessons and wisdom from professors,” Bautista said.