Category Archives: great teachers

Fight, Resistance and Basics

I was in tenth grade, relaxing with friends in my high school quad, when two rival gang members hurtled toward us. Of course I had seen school yard brawls, but this was different. These two were muscular, raging, violent, and they knew how to hurt each other. Fear has an odd influence on memory, and I carry the next few minutes as disjointed still life photography. I remember their haircuts. I remember the crowd screaming. I remember that both wore jeans. I remember the thud of pounding meat, each time a fist connected. I remember when the winning hit smashed his opponent’s face, and the explosion of bright crimson. I remember my surprise because the “winner” was the smaller of the two.

More than a decade later, I enrolled in a women’s self-defense class called “Basics.” Most of us had never thrown a punch, and we didn’t have a clue how to fight. Our two teachers worked together, coaching us. During every “assault,” one stood by our side shouting instructions, while the other “attacked” us, dressed head-to-toe in protective gear so we could fight without sending him to the emergency room.

Until that point, whenever I had watched a fight — TV, movies, plays — I saw only chaos. Flying fists, flailing kicks, careening bodies. To my complete surprise, by the second self-defense class, I could break down the maelstrom into structured pieces. I could spot openings, moments when I could step in to protect myself. Every class, our teachers repeated the basics: when you find an opening, commit 100%.  Don’t give up, ever. It’s okay to be scared. Even if you’re fighting by yourself, you’re not alone.

Now, more than 25 years later, I find myself entering a different kind of battle, facing an unprecedented situation in my homeland. I look around and see my fellow citizens under assault, and I will not be a passive bystander. As a woman, I too am under assault. But I know self-defense and even in this unfamiliar arena, stepping forward with non-violent resistance, those “basic” teachings are more relevant than ever.

Wait for your opening.  When you step in, commit 100%. Different people choose different ways to fight, but you’re still on the same team. Yes, you might get hurt in the struggle but no, that doesn’t mean the fight is over. If you’re knocked down, you can fight with equal strength from the ground. You can fight through pain. A fight, especially a prolonged fight, is emotionally and physically exhausting, so don’t forget to take care of yourself. It’s okay to be scared. You’re not alone. Don’t give up, ever.

And from that gang fight in high school so long ago: the smaller fighter, in the end, can still triumph.


Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Amy’s first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, follows Caroline Black through tenth grade, in a school with over forty languages spoken among the students. The story deals with homophobic bullying, racial and economic diversity, and the power of friendship. Amy’s second novel, Tightwire, follows a fictional psychotherapy from three perspectives — the rookie therapist scrambling to build a treatment — the patient struggling to heal — the supervisor guiding the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case. This novel was written in support of same-sex parents, to fight the stigma of mental issues, and with deep respect for the human capacity to heal.

Click on the link to check out reviews, read the first few chapters, purchase a novel.


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Filed under #ShePersists, ACLU, California Rural Legal Assistance, great teachers, Planned Parenthood, resistance, self-defense, social justice, Southern Poverty Law Center, Uncategorized

Reach The Top

I can’t remember Laverne’s face, only her legs. But that makes sense, because standing tall, I came up to her knees. I was two years old and I adored my preschool teacher. Under her guidance, my entire class aspired to greatness, which we defined as climbing to the top of the jungle gym. One by one, the other kids triumphed. Finally, I was the only child who hadn’t summited.

Every day, I arrived at school and gazed at that jungle gym — majestic and imposing, beckoning and terrifying. The bars towered enormous, a soaring five feet tall. I felt a powerful need to climb. But every time I stepped toward the challenge, my fear steered me back to the safety of the swings. One morning, Laverne found me at the base of the grand structure, staring up. I was verbal for my age, so she knelt next to me and asked what was holding me back.

“It’s too big.”

“Are you scared?”

“Very scared.”

“Well, here’s an idea.” Laverne spoke slowly, giving me time to keep up. “You can be scared without being brave, but you can’t be brave without being scared.”

I replayed her words in my head several times. After a minute, I nodded. “I’m ready to be scared and brave, not just scared.”  I stepped forward, then hesitated.

Laverne took my hand. “Let’s do it together.”

I remember the next few minutes as a series of disjointed freeze frames —  the cold against my hands as I gripped the bars, the strain as I pulled myself upward. A part of my memory confused me for a long time: a crystal clear view of a smooth, medium brown surface, under a lattice of white. I couldn’t make sense of it until I realized that as I climbed, Laverne climbed next to me. When I looked at her for a shot of courage, I was looking at her brown legs under white fishnet stockings.

My next memory is the sound of my classmates cheering. I turned my head slowly, astonished at the splendor of the view. I saw a red ball behind a shed, a white sock in a pile of leaves, a spiderweb in a nearby tree. I beamed at the sweeping panorama brimming with hidden treasures. The moment was fine and at two years old, I was changed forever.

To this day, I always feel a warm confidence when I think of jungle gyms, spiderwebs and fishnet stockings. Although I didn’t have the language to frame the feelings when I was two years old, I understood on a visceral level the value of fear as an essential part of courage. I experienced first-hand how a great teacher can bring students to heights they never thought possible. In a place too deep for words, I knew that when a girl reaches the top of her world, she’ll never be the same.


Amy Kaufman Burk is a blogger and author of two novels. Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, written in reaction to seeing gay teens bullied in high school, follows Caroline Black through tenth grade. Her second novel, Tightwire, continues to follow Caroline, as a rookie psych intern treating her first patient. Amy blogs about a variety of subjects including parenting, LGBTQ+ and a Rolling Stones concert. Amy also collaborates with educators who use her novels in their curriculum. 

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

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Filed under Education, gender equality, girl power, great teachers, preschool