Laurence Tan - TEACH | Not in Our Town

Laurence Tan - TEACH

Grade Level: 
Middle School (6-8)
High School (9-12)


The son of Filipino immigrants, Laurence Tan was studying to be a doctor when the vision of becoming a teacher presented itself in a dream. Now a fifth grade teacher in Watts, CA, Laurence uses the tool of TEACH to inspire and educate students in an area where opportunities are slim.

Laurence has also helped establish the Watts Youth Collective with former students, an organization that promotes social change through media. Laurence’s 12-hour teaching days and his work with the collective are efforts to produce positive changes in each individual and the community.

This lesson addresses the following Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) strategies and you can have students look for these issues and examine them in themselves.

  • Self-awareness: Laurence Tan maintains a sense of optimism and belief in the idea that what he does has a positive impact on others, in particular his students and former students. This optimism and confidence drives him to continue to be a positive influence in their lives.

  • Self-management: Despite the long hours, sometimes 12-hour workdays, Laurence Tan strives to make a difference in his student’s lives by helping them learn to the best of their abilities as well as encourage them to make a change.

  • Social awareness: Laurence Tan works with a very diverse group of students and acts as a resource and a guide for students to become socially aware in his classes and the Watts Youth Collective.

  • Relationship skills: Laurence Tan regularly works on building and maintaining healthy relationships with his students and by extension those in the community.

  • Responsible decision-making: Laurence Tan works to positively influence his students not only in his classes but through the Watts Youth Collective. He encourages the youth in the Watts Youth Collective to make wise choices and to make a difference through the creative and effective use of the media.

1.  Prior to showing the video, briefly explain the primary themes of the video. Use some or all of the following questions (include at least one writing prompt):

  • What is your biggest dream? For some, this dream could be to go to college or be a teacher; for others, it might even be to fly to the moon. Discuss who or what inspired you for this to be your greatest dream.
  • What will it take for you to reach your dream? Jot down how you plan on fulfilling your dream.
  • Name someone famous, or maybe someone you know personally, who had a dream and fulfilled it. What was their dream and what did it take for them to finally see it become reality? (Try to pick someone other than Martin Luther King Jr. for this question.)

2.  After watching the video, engage students in a dialogue about the film using some or all of the following questions (include at least one writing prompt):

  • What was Laurence Tan’s original dream and how did it change or evolve over time? (Doctor —> Teacher —> Encouraging students to make a difference and to learn to the best of their abilities)
  • How does Laurence Tan’s dream affect those around him? Now think of your dream and describe how your dream may affect those around you. Does your dream help others and in what way?
  • Through the Watts Youth Collective, Laurence Tan’s former students are able to address issues they see, such as racial profiling, in their own community. What are some issues in your own community and what can you, or as a group, do to address them?

Extension Activities

1. Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. never met but they fought for the same cause at the same time on two continents. Mandela said he was prepared to die to see his dream of a society where blacks and whites were equal become reality. King was assassinated in 1968 while working for that same dream. Have students do research to contrast the lives and dreams of MLK and Nelson Mandela. What were the results of each of their efforts?

2. “To accomplish great things we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.” —Anatole France. Have the students write an essay on what this quote means to them.

3. Have students write an essay on the power of being a teacher. Write about whether or not they agree with Laurence Tan that being a teacher is an important choice if you want to change the world.

4. Have students write a narrative piece projecting 20 years into the future. Have them describe themselves and their lives as they work to fulfill their dreams or describe the steps they took to fulfill their dreams. Create a book with of all of the student narratives and have the students come up with a title for it, e.g., Our Book of Dreams.

Lesson Plan by Geraldine Divina and Becki Cohn-Vargas


Add new comment