- Durham Public Schools
Northern High School Teacher Lauren Casteen Named Treering Yearbooks’ Yearbook Hero of the Month
Northern High School History teacher Lauren Casteen has been named Treering Yearbooks Yearbook Hero of the Month for her transformational approach to her yearbook class. Her focus on equity has changed the student composition of the class, creating an environment that yields yearbook stories that are more representative of all students, not just a cross-section.
Treering Yearbooks, a San Mateo-based digital yearbook software company, offers a range of features to help schools transition to a more inclusive yearbook, including a user-friendly app for crowdsourcing photos and free custom pages for each student to feature what matters to them in their individual copy of the yearbook, said Erika Lin Payne, Marketing Manager for Treering. Payne heard of the DPS mantra, “You belong here” for employee recruitment, and says that Casteen’s instructional approach matches the mantra.
Casteen told Treering that she became a teacher because in kindergarten she decided that she wanted to go to school every day. Now she's in a position to prepare her students to make their dreams come true as well from her perch. In addition to Yearbook, she’s also taught Psychology, History, and English. She approaches her work with fidelity and a commitment to strengthening her students.
“I teach on the same basic question: Who are we, and why are we like this? Whether it's understanding how historical events have brought us to our current context, or how the structures in our brain shape our behavior, or how individuals combine to create a school community, my ultimate goal is for my students to move toward discovering who they are and how and where they "fit." Obviously, I teach my curriculum, but I try to do it in a way that allows students to recognize their strengths,” she said.
Yearbook class gives students numerous opportunities to demonstrate– and find– their talents. Casteen said their different personalities, language background, and interests are the perfect recipe for building a historical document that students and staff will treasure indefinitely.
“A kid who can't seem to breathe without talking might be annoying when I'm trying to teach World History, but they'd be a great interviewer on my yearbook staff. The student who doodles on the desk instead of on paper (despite the fact that it's literally everywhere in my classroom) could be a graphic designer. One who is constantly taking selfies with their friends knows about social media, lighting, angles, framing a shot - they can do marketing and photography. I think it's important for teachers to try to see the potential in their students. There's the old adage about trying to teach a fish to climb a tree: Just because a student doesn't mesh with your personality or struggles with your content doesn't mean they don't belong somewhere. We have to see beyond our own classroom walls to help them discover where that is.”
At Northern, this philosophy is practiced, and this is why she pursues her dream here.
“From the moment I came to NHS, I found myself around like-minded colleagues and administrators. Mr. Gilfort (NHS Principal) has been nothing but supportive of the changes I made since taking over the yearbook in 2020, which included eliminating the written application for yearbook staff (which I viewed as a barrier to EC and ESL students joining the staff) and switching to TreeRing, a publisher whose books are more affordable and environmentally sustainable than our previous vendor. Having seen the alternative, I know that I am lucky to be in a school and district that are so supportive, and don't think I could go back to a school or district where that was not the case.”
That Casteen emulates the “You belong here” mantra is intentional.
“When I was a beginning teacher, I read Lisa Delpit's Other People's Children, and it named something that I had previously felt, but could not explain - that there are some teachers who divide students into "our kids" (i.e., ones who share their cultural background) and "those kids" (i.e., students who do not). Public school teachers can't have that kind of exclusive attitude. Our job is to teach everyone. If we believe in "Maslow before Bloom" - that we must meet students' needs before we can teach them - then part of our job is regarding all students as "our kids." There is no such thing as "other people's children."
She went on to further her education with the notion that she would demonstrate how to eradicate “otherness.”
“In 2022, I obtained my MEd in Urban Education with a certificate in Anti-Racism from UNC Charlotte. I pursued this degree - as opposed to an MSA, or degree in curriculum and instruction or social studies ed - because I am passionate about trying to be the best teacher I can for the students in our school and our district. Students deserve teachers who love them and want to be with them. Being committed to equity and inclusion are part of how I try to actualize that.”