For teacher Chris Bowen, it's all about relationships

Chris Bowen, 44, who began his second year the other day as English teacher to 7th graders at West Middle School, has written a book with the title, "Our Kids: Building Relationships in the Classroom." The book consists of 36 stories, mostly brief ones, about his encounters with his K-5 students over the years starting in 1999 at the now shuttered Pace Elementary, and then for a short while at Lewis Elementary.More specifically, he says: "At the heart of these stories is how building genuine relationships with kids leads to a greater understanding to what some of their personal obstacles are in life. It also leads to higher achievement and fewer behavior problems." He says he sort of stumbled on this approach because it wasn't in his nature to be a stern schoolmaster to the kids. Indeed, his method has earned him 'Teacher of the Year' awards for his stints at two different schools, as well as recognition as Los Angeles County 'Teacher of the Year' from among 80,000 teachers countywide. There's a story in the book about a fifth-grader whose essay on the theme, "Say No to Drugs," earned her top honors throughout the district; about 'underserved' first graders getting rare, perhaps their only, gifts directly from Kiwanis-sponsored Santa at Christmastime; about a tongue-tied classmate of his then 2-year-old daughter Grace in kindergarten; or about being able to wring out from a seemingly stubborn ten-year old a wisp of a poem a la ee cummings or Carl Sandburg's "Fog." He admitted he has a couple of favorites: the very first story, about how he made a connection with a bedridden kid at Rancho Los Amigos, enabling the poor fellow to see, perhaps for the first time in his life, amid depressing circumstances, the shimmering presence of mountains in the distance and thence to the wonders found on the printed page; and the one about the girl who insisted she still had leukemia to keep mom and dad from splitting. Bowen, an 1988 English major at New York University, then obtaining his teaching credential in 1996 from Chapman University, laces his stories with lessons and themes about the value of patience with kids, about gaining their trust and leading them, rather than dousing their fires outright with a misplaced word or gesture, on the road to a lifelong, exhilarating learning adventure. The book has been noticed. "This spring," says Bowen, "my book and I were featured on the Dr. Phil show. I was recently asked back and was part of an episode due to air early this month." He adds: "The book was recently optioned to be made into a TV show. A producer [who's read the book] felt each story could work as an episode." The fact that his wife Elizabeth works in wardrobe for Dr. Phil is a plus, he says. He admits the deal in all probability has a one-in-a-million chance of happening, but nonetheless "It's been a thrill so far." Without equivocation, New Jersey native Bowen says DUSD is a wonderful place to work, and a fine place for his kids to get an education: Clare, 9, goes to Rio Hondo, while Grace, now 12, is "with me here at West Middle School. They both love the book because they're mentioned in it." He's thoroughly happy teaching English to his middle schoolers, he says, adding: "I enjoy hanging out with the kids all day. Even if they annoy me, they still make me laugh." In the meantime, off and on in his spare time, Bowen has started on his second book--episodes of meaningful encounters, this time with his middle school students.

********** Published: September 9, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 21