School & District Management In Their Own Words

‘What Happened to Sherman?': A Principal Who Can’t Shake the Memory of One Special Student

By Denisa R. Superville — June 23, 2023 3 min read
A five photo collage on dark blue paper of principal Catherine Diezi and others from school.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print


Catherine Diezi was a military wife in her mid-30s when she started teaching. She hadn’t considered education as a career until teachers at her children’s school, on a naval air base in Lemoore, Calif., noticed she was a natural with children and encouraged her to go back to college to complete her degree. She’d finished one year of college before getting married and moving across the country with her then-husband. That nudge led to a 31-year career—a her true purpose—that took Diezi from California, to Washington state, to Memphis, Tenn. She retires this month as principal of Shelby Oaks Elementary School, which she led for 16 years.

In her own words, Diezi reflects on her love of teaching and the students she will never forget. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

I’m very much a children’s literature person. I love children’s literature.

When we were studying the Holocaust, I was teaching 5th grade, so my higher-achieving students read The Diary of Anne Frank. The majority of the class was studying Number the Stars, and I found The Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust. I brought in lots of other literature books, and it was a very robust unit.

I had a student the year that I really got into the Holocaust unit, who was supposed to go to special education the majority of the day. But he didn’t like to go. He wanted to stay in class with us. He could not read very well, but he wanted to read The Diary of Anne Frank, which is a tough book for a special education student to read.

I allowed it, and encouraged him. I was like, “OK, if you are going to stay in class with me, this is what I expect from you.” He met my expectations; he thrived in my class.

That year I had a class that had a lot of students people would say would be challenging. When I was in the hall with Sherman at the beginning of the school year, a teacher said something to me like, ‘Oh, you have Sherman.’ He heard that. I pulled him aside and I said, ‘Sherman, I don’t listen to what other people tell me about students. You have to show me who you are and who you want to be.’

There was a time when he was walking out the front door, and the principal saw him reading a book. She came back to me later and said, ‘What have you done to Sherman? He was reading.’ I was like, ‘Yes, he likes to read.’

That same year, we received our [Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program] scores back, and his mother happened to be at school because it was field day. He grew by 27 points. I told her, and I cried, and so did she.

Some students can challenge you, some students can make you go home and cry, but we have to believe they are able to do more than they believe they can.

Sherman thrived that year he wanted to be with me. Even when he went to middle school and the new leader said something, he wanted to connect with me. I would ask periodically how Sherman was doing. There was a day he’d gotten into trouble and she said, ‘Do I need to call Dr. Diezi?’ and I talked to him.

I often wonder what happened to Sherman. I didn’t hear from him after he went to high school and beyond.

Periodically, probably every year at some point or another, and probably because I’ve been reflecting about my career a lot lately, I think about him, a lot.

I often use him as an example with other teachers. I don’t believe we should ever give up on our students. Some students can challenge you; some students can make you go home and cry, but we have to believe they are able to do more than they believe they can.

When I talk about the experiences of students who do more than we originally thought they would, he is the one I always bring up.

He has such a common name that I don’t think I can find him on social media. But I would love to know what happened to him.

Read More

School & District Management In Their Own Words This Principal Endured A Lot of Senior Pranks. One Stood Out
Chris LeGrande won't forget 215 keys, a jar, and a parking boot.
3 min read
A three photo collage on dark blue paper of principal Chris LeGrande and others from school.
Photos: Courtesy of Chris LeGrande; Design: Gina Tomko/Education Week via Canva
School & District Management In Their Own Words Teaching 'Grand Students': A Principal Treasures Her Work With Multiple Generations
A New Jersey principal built connections over multiple generations of families.
2 min read
A two photo collage on dark blue paper of principal Stella Nwanguma and others from school.
Photos: Courtesy of Stella Nwanguma; Design: Gina Tomko/Education Week via Canva
School & District Management In Their Own Words 'The Kids Never Once Doubted I Loved Them': A Principal's Deep Connections With Students
This Kansas middle school principal will remember the decades-long relationships she's built with students.
4 min read
A three photo collage on dark blue paper of principal Stacy Schreiner and others from school.
Photos: Courtesy of Stacy Schreiner; Design: Gina Tomko/Education Week via Canva

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning
Budget & Finance Webinar Staffing Schools After ESSER: What School and District Leaders Need to Know
Join our newsroom for insights on investing in critical student support positions as pandemic funds expire.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
How can districts build sustainable tutoring models before the money runs out?
District leaders, low on funds, must decide: broad support for all or deep interventions for few? Let's discuss maximizing tutoring resources.
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Quiz What Do You Know About the Most Influential People in School Districts? Take Our Quiz
Answer 7 questions about the superintendent profession.
1 min read
Image of icons for gender, pay, demographics.
Canva
School & District Management Opinion I Invited My Students to Be the Principal for a Day. Here’s What I Learned
When I felt myself slipping into a springtime slump, this simple activity reminded me of my “why” as an educator.
S. Kambar Khoshaba
4 min read
052024 OPINION Khoshaba PRINCIPAL end the year with positivity
E+/Getty + Vanessa Solis/Education Week via Canva
School & District Management The Complicated Fight Over Four-Day School Weeks
Missouri lawmakers want to encourage large districts to maintain five-day weeks—even as four-day weeks grow more popular.
7 min read
Calendar 4 day week
iStock/Getty
School & District Management From Our Research Center Principal Salaries: The Gap Between Expectation and Reality
Exclusive survey data indicate a gap between the expectations and the realities of principal pay.
4 min read
A Black woman is standing on a ladder and looking into the distance with binoculars, in the background is an ascending arrow.
iStock/Getty