Lincoln High teacher’s TED Talk resonates, goes viral

A Lincoln High School teacher’s powerful TED Talk about the trauma faced by students outside school and the ripple effect that has on teachers has been viewed more than 500,000 times since it was posted online Wednesday.

Sydney Jensen, a ninth-grade English teacher, delivered the 11-minute talk Oct. 6 at TED headquarters in New York City. Since then, Jensen has heard from people in Lincoln and across the country who were moved by her message.

“It has been an absolutely humbling experience and I am overwhelmed by the positive response it has received,” said Jensen, who has taught at Lincoln High for six years and last year was named the Nebraska Teacher of the Year.

Jensen’s journey to the TED Talk stage - and the online attention that ensued - began in February. She and the nation’s other state teacher honorees were guests at Google headquarters and participated in a storytelling workshop. TED representatives were in the audience and encouraged her to submit a proposal to participate in TED Masterclass, a program designed to help educators identify, develop and present their ideas.

Jensen submitted her proposal in May and it was selected in August. After that, she put in 200 hours of preparation, including five revisions of her talk and numerous coaching sessions, before traveling to New York City in October. 

A few highlights from her talk:

  • On the challenges students face outside school: “I also have students who go to the homeless shelter or the group home. They go to the car their family is sleeping in right now.” 
  • On how that impacts her and other teachers: “They come to school with trauma. And when I go home every day that goes with me...The tough part about teaching is all the things you can’t control for your kids. All the things you can’t change for them once they walk out your door.”
  • On the strain felt by teachers: “Our emotional piggy banks are constantly being drawn upon.”
  • On the need for mental health support, not only for students but for teachers: “I work in an amazing school, with great leadership. I serve a large district, with so many healthy partnerships with so many community agencies. They have provided steadily increasing numbers of school counselors, and therapists, and support staff to help our students. They even provide staff members with access to free counseling as part of our employment plan. But many small districts, and even some large ones, simply cannot foot the bill without aid.”
  • On the paper chains that hang in her classroom, which consist of individual links - a nod to the school mascot, the Links - for each student to write a positive message about themselves on the first day of ninth grade: “The chain that hangs in my classroom is more than just a decoration. Those links hang over our heads for the entire four years our students walk our halls. Seniors come back and can point out their chain. They remember what they wrote. They feel connected and supported and they have hope. Isn’t that what we all need?” 

Reflecting on her whirlwind experience, Jensen is thankful her talk resonated with her most cherished audience: her students.

“It is a real-life example of the importance of writing, revising, citing sources, and commitment to the things that you truly believe in and value. They joined me on this journey all semester, and it has been the icing on the cake to have them excitedly tell me that they watched the talk, that it mattered, and that they were proud to be a Link.”

Published: November 15, 2019, Updated: November 25, 2019

"(My students) joined me on this journey all semester, and it has been the icing on the cake to have them excitedly tell me that they watched the talk, that it mattered, and that they were proud to be a Link."

Lincoln High English teacher Sydney Jensen