StoryCorps Celebrates Teachers With Oral History Initiative

National nonprofit plans to record 625 interviews across the U.S.

Sept. 19, 2011 — -- For Warren Weems, it was a fifth-grade teacher and a report card that motivated him to work in the classroom.

"I had a fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Lynch, and she wrote on my report card -- and I still have it -- 'Warren is severely handicapped' or something like that and that made me so mad," he said. "I failed the fifth grade and then Ms. Burbwich took me under her wing. ... I always will remember her, you know."

Weems shared this story with his son Jason and wife Robin for StoryCorps' National Teachers Initiative, which the national nonprofit oral history project launched today to honor public school teachers.

StoryCorps is working with local communities, organizations and school districts to record, share and preserve teachers' stories to bring attention to their hard work and dedication.

The Weemses work at Leith Walk Elementary School in Baltimore. Warren Weems is a teacher's aide in his wife's first-grade classroom and Jason Weems is a kindergarten teacher's aide. Jason Weems interviewed his father for the StoryCorps recording.

Teacher: 'I Am Their Father, Grandfather and Whatever Else'

"She does the teaching. I do the decorating, the paperwork, whatever law enforcement is needed," Warren Weems said with a laugh. "I sit back and figure out what each one of the children's needs are. ... I am their father, grandfather and whatever else."

Robin Weems said her husband added an air of excitement, especially for her male students.

"They just hang on every word that you say," she told him during his recorded interview. "They love for you to read stories to them."

Warren Weems, who said he felt an obligation to give back to his community, has volunteered at the school for nearly nine years.

"The rewards are worth it," he said.

Started in 2003 by radio documentary producer Dave Isay, StoryCorps dispatches specially trained technicians and recording equipment for anyone to use -- free of charge.

For the teachers initiative, the project plans to stop in several cities including New York City; Mobile, Ala.; and New Orleans during the school year to record at least 625 interviews with teachers and their interview partners. The teachers' stories will be archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

"We have a saying -- we call it the classroom family," Warren Weems said. "I have pictures of myself, my wife and Jason, and then I have a picture of all the children on the door so they all feel part of the family."