Protagonists: 20 Minutes with Callie Hammond

The Protagonists series highlights the main characters of our mission: the teachers out there hustling to make their students feel known, heard, and challenged through student-led discussion.

Callie Hammond, teacher at Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart in Houston, Texas

Hometown Technically, Charlotte, North Carolina, but I also claim Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as the city where I truly grew up. I’m in Houston, Texas right now.

Favorite teacher growing up: who and why? It’s hard to pick one. I think that overall my favorite teacher was Mr. Cokerdem, who actually was my high school Social Studies teacher. At the time, I loved English and reading, but I always struggled in English class because I didn’t like teachers telling me what to read and write. History, as a result, was my favorite subject. Mr. Cokerdem was a young teacher who came into the school at the same time I came into ninth grade. He was very energetic, and different from other teachers because he had us move around the room and do activities that I’d never done before in a classroom. We also had a good relationship where I felt like I could talk to him and ask him questions. His dedication to teaching and to building relationships with his students meant a lot to me. 

Describe yourself as a student in three words I would say analytical, perfectionistic, rule-follower. 

Current City, School, Teaching Assignments (?) I’m in Houston, Texas, where I teach at Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart, which is an all-girls school. I teach seventh and eighth grade English, and I’m also the eighth grade Dean of Students. Previously, I’ve also taught sixth grade English. 

Favorite historical figure (or best line from history?) It’s a toss-up between Ruth Bader Ginsburg (I guess she’s historical, now) and Malala Yousafzai, who isn’t historical (yet). I find a lot of inspiration from Malala’s story because she’s passionate about girls’ education. I also love using her story at an all girls’ school with pre-teens and teenagers. She was their age when she was shot, and discovering that part of her story really inspires my students. I’m also personally inspired by her and her work because of the girls’ education aspect. RBG I didn’t know much about until recently, but when I found out she’d passed away I started to read more about her and better understand the things she’d done. I’m in the process of still learning about her. 

Favorite literary character (or best line from a novel?) My seventh graders just completed the book Chains, by Laurie Halse Anderson, and the main character is Isabel who is a young Black girl living as a slave during the Revolutionary War. Some horrible things happen to her, and she plans her own escape and runs away. I think she’s one of the best examples of a very strong female protagonist in YA literature, and I love that she’s a person of color, because students don’t always have the double whammy of a strong female character and a Black girl with great power in the books that they read. Another favorite from my own girlhood is Francie Nolan from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I connected a lot with her when I was reading that book as a ten year old, so she’s always the one I first think of when I’m asked about a literary character who I’d love to go to dinner with!

Favorite school supply? Paper Mate “Flare” felt tip pens. Also, post-it notes. 

Pet peeve about class (student-led?) discussion? I recently discovered that I really hate when students all turn and look at me and say “We’re done.” 

Favorite moment of class discussion? I love that moment when a group thinks they can move on from a topic and suddenly, one of my girls will disagree. All the others are like “oh, someone disagrees with us?!” Then, when that brave girl explains what she’s thinking, why she disagrees, and can back it up? Amazing. Stand up, stand out!

Text you count on to inspire conversation? This is my first year in a long time not with sixth grade, but at that grade level, I absolutely love teaching The Giver. In almost every chapter, there’s something that happens that the students are so excited to talk about: they love discussing Jonas, or what they would do in a situation, or applying it to themselves. I always know that kids will eat it up. There’ll be discussion both in the class room and in the hallways, too. Also, I love teaching 12 Angry Men, which I teach in seventh grade. I love teaching that book because again, they get so excited that there’s no definitive answer of whether or not the boy is the murderer. My girls will be (goodnaturedly!) screaming at each other in the hall about his guilt or innocence, and they just can’t stop talking about it! That’s a really great thing to see. 

What do you nerd out about? Teaching, mostly. But, also I really love staying on top of what’s recently come out in adult fiction, and I try my very best to know if my favorite authors are coming out with new books. I just started reading Apples Never Fall, the new Liane Moriarty book. It’s not quite a beach read, but I always know when I pick up a book by her that it’s going to be a compelling read.

What is your wish for this world? My wish, and it kind of goes along with REAL, is that people would be open-minded about talking with one another and open-minded with hearing differing opinions about anything and everything. 

When historians recount 2020-21, what will they be especially fascinated by? Two things: the state of United States politics and tracking environmental change and how rapidly that’s happening. 

One prediction for the future of schools? I would love for the future of schools to be one in which students are truly engaged – not just in their seats – and where they really feel like they are preparing for their future. I want our students to learn academic skills and life skills. I spend a lot of time thinking about middle school, especially, and my wish for the future of middle school would be that kids feel like middle school has a point. The girls at my school will even say “oh, no one cares about us, they only care about the lower schoolers or the high schoolers.” My middle schoolers are ready for more – more leadership, more say, more experiences – but we often don’t let them do more. There’s so much that educators can do to enhance education in middle school.

Best advice given to you by a department chair or supervisor? One piece of advice that’s stuck with me came from a curriculum developer at the public school where I previously worked. She taught me a lot about how to teach English well, and her advice was to always practice lessons – not necessarily standing up and practicing for an hour, but running through sections in a lesson to make sure that there was flow to a lesson within the larger unit. That’s something that I do to this day: I want activities and classwork and homework to seamlessly piece together so that students can see how one thing connects to the next and they say “ohhh, so that’s why we did that!”. 

Educator-Influencer you count on? First place you turn for classroom advice? I am a huge Teachers-Pay-Teachers person. I was literally just on there! I like Martina Cahill, the Hungry Teacher, and PrestoPlans. I also read the Cult of Pedagogy’s blog and regularly go to her site for advice and insights. 

Better class discussions will _______________. Lead to students being open-minded. 

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