San Pedro High School English teacher David Crowley was going about his business Monday morning when he was told there was a distraught student in the multipurpose room who badly needed his counsel.
Crowley didn’t think much of it. After all, he’d been the adviser of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance since founding the club 12 years ago – his first year working full-time at the school. Being there for kids who felt like outcasts was second nature.
But when he entered the room, he was greeted by a small swarm of news cameras and a cheering crowd of students, faculty, friends, family and a handful of young adults in blue T-shirts bearing the Honda logo.
“What’s going on here?” were the first words out of his mouth. He repeated the question at least once before taking a seat in the front row and getting his answer.
Crowley is among five teachers from San Pedro to Simi Valley being honored for Teachers Appreciation Week by the SoCal Honda Dealers Association. The association is recognizing one teacher per day through its Helpful Honda program, a seven-year-old campaign of community goodwill that includes other events such as surprising people with complimentary roses on Valentine’s Day and paying for gas at the pump when prices skyrocket.
Monday was the day for Crowley, who’d been nominated by his principal, Jeanette Stevens.
“Thank you for being a catalyst for change,” she told him, prompting more cheers.
In addition to starting theGay-Straight Alliance, Crowley this fall helped students launch a glee club, a singing club at a school bereft of a choir due to budget cuts. He also became San Pedro High’s first-ever social media teacher, creating the school’s Facebook page, YouTube channel and Twitter feed.
He organizes an overnight retreat with students involved in a program called Advancement Via Individual Determination – known better as AVID – whose main purpose is to prepare disadvantaged students for college.
But fellow teacher Anthony Saavedra said those accomplishments only scratch the surface of Crowley’s abilities.
“When it comes to the controversy of testing, Dave’s motto is ‘Bring it on,’ ” he said, speaking into a mic before the audience. “His students consistently do well. ”
As Crowley sat down in the front row, still dumbfounded by the attention, a student holding a mic on stage began singing a song, ABBA’s “Thank You for the Music.” It crescendoed to include a chorus of kids. Crowley dabbed tears as he watched, and somebody brought him a box of tissues. At some point, Crowley’s 10-year-old son, Caden, sat in his lap.
Other students later took the mic to express their appreciation.
“You care for students – you understand,” said Jesse Gonzales, a junior with a streak of green in his long hair, shredded blue jeans and painted nails. “That’s very hard to come by these days. ”
Aundrea Fizer, a sophomore, said that thanks to the glee club and Crowley, school no longer feels scary to her.
“I’ve opened up to new people, met new friends – I never thought I’d have something like this,” she said.
In addition to the accolades from students and colleagues, Crowley was awarded $5,000 worth of gear from Helpful Honda that included several iPads, a karaoke machine, a digital camera and a MacBook computer.
“Gosh – I don’t think I’ve ever felt this appreciated,” said Crowley, a tall and slender man with wispy blond hair and dark-framed eyeglasses.
Crowley still remembers the first meeting of the Gay-Straight Alliance. Students crowded around the door – not to go in, necessarily, but to see who was going in.
“The first meeting was met with a lot of curiosity,” he said. “Hundreds and hundreds of kids showed up. I think they wanted to see who was gay. ”
Crowley had actually been coming off a tough week. Due to the school’s declining enrollment and his place on the faculty seniority list, Crowley had just been informed he is due to be displaced next school year.
Because the school’s headcount is expected to shrink by about 230 students, he is among six teachers slated for reassignment to other schools within the Los Angeles Unified School District.
“I don’t want to leave,” he said. “This is my home. ”
Asked what it takes to be a good teacher, Crowley said it is important to talk to kids, not at them.
By this, he means treating them more like colleagues than underlings.
For instance, Crowley has a method for discussing classroom rules on the first day of school.
“I just stare at them,” he said. “After a while, I go, ‘What are the rules? I mean, there’s a lot more of you than there are of me. So you guys could easily kick my butt if you wanted to. So I guess we better figure out how we’re all going to get along.’ And then they start suggesting rules, and then I slowly guide them to the ones that I’m OK with. “