By Jean Lotus
Proviso East High School chemistry teacher Glenn Lid is not afraid to make a mess in his chemistry lab. And he's not afraid to put on funny hats, make jokes and take his students out of Room 207 in Maywood and down to the Chicago River to help clean it up. He also takes them to wealthy schools such as Niles West in Skokie to show them environments they may never have seen.
Lid, a 34-year veteran of Proviso East's classrooms, is featured in a new book telling the stories of some of the most innovative teachers in America.
American Teacher: Hero in the Classroom was released Tuesday by Welcome Books in New York. Author Katrina Fried interviewed 50 teachers across the country, and lets them tell their stories in their own words. She also interviews former students, who tell about the influence of the teachers on their lives.
Lid, who was inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame last year, and won a Disney teachers award in 2004, compares his teaching to a form of exploration. Author Fried describes him as, "part mad scientist, part parental figure, part life coach."
"It's my mission to infuse as much positive energy, humor, creativity, technology and inspiration into my lessons as I can," Lid said in the book. "I think of myself as an explorer of human beings. I have discovered some incredible kids who go on to do incredible things. That's what keeps the flame going."
Lid was one of the first ten teachers Fried interviewed, and she said he set the bar high for the project.
"He's really an amazing figure and he has taught so long in a challenging urban environment, but he manages to open the doors for students and let them dream big," Fried said.
Lid said his father, a printer and later a custodian who died when Lid was 24, is a role model.
"He was always there to redirect me, encourage me, dust me off after failing and send me back to try again," Lid said in the book. He has coached baseball at the high school for 21 years and wrestling for 34 years. He points out that teaching in underperforming schools is difficult and takes a lot of commitment from teachers.
"Many of our students are lacking male role models in the home, a fact that is especially significant for the boys," Lid said. He makes it his job to break through to students.
"I have to bring persistence and establish relationships with my students," he said. "So many of my students have no fathers, but as their teacher I can give to them the same learning opportunities and experiences my dad provided me with."
Lid and his wife (also a teacher) have no children of their own, Fried said.
"But I think all of his students are like his own kids."
Lid talks about a discussion of radioactivity in his honors chemistry and AP class. He realized that "90 percent" of his students had no understanding of the damage done to human beings by radioactivity used in careless ways or as a weapon.
"I asked the kids, 'Do you know what WMD stands for? Do you know what Chernobyl was? Do you know what happened in Japan in 1945 to end World War II?'"
To bring home the horror of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima, Lid worked with the Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima. Students Skyped with a survivor of the Aug. 6, 1945 bombing and were allowed to ask him questions. Lid believes the power of chemistry and physics become relevant to students with these kinds of experiences, as well as the true exploratory nature of science.
A 23-year-old former student says of Lid in the book, "He stressed the importance of ethics, scholarship and personal integrity."
Lid said he's seen teachers, superintendents and principals come and go in his 34 years at PEHS.
"It takes a special dedication to stick it out at a school of need, a special love and caring, because you are going to be tested and frustrated in lots of different ways."
Giving teachers a voice
The book was created to "give teachers a voice in the education debate," said Fried. Her previous book was Everyday Heroes: 50 Americans Changing the World One Nonprofit at a Time. Fried said she worked closely with the book designer to make a coffee table-style book that might be marketed as a gift for new teachers, veteran teachers, parents and others in education.
"I was amazed how the teachers I talked to wanted to know about what other teachers were doing. [Good teachers] are so busy working on their own classes, they don't get many chances to see other classrooms and best practices."
Welcome Publishing made the project with lots of internet resources, said Fried. The book is more than a book, with lots of online reading lists from teachers interviewed and other favorite links and resources.
There's even a video of Lid with testimonials from his students and scenes from Lid's "out of the box" classroom.