Monday, May 23, 2011

My Oprah Adventure

Many of you have asked for the whole story behind my "stint" with the Oprah show, so here it is! For the last 5 years, I've been using Oprah's episodes in my classroom. My brother gave me her 20th anniversary DVD set for Christmas so I could use it during teaching. I found that during many of my discussions with students after watching the episodes many would open up and share - they had a lot of "aha" moments. So when Oprah asked for her ultimate viewers, I wrote in.

For me, it wasn't about being an ultimate viewer because of worshipping Oprah, but because I admire what she's done with the talk show world - turned it on it's head. That's what I strive to do in the classroom - turn it inside out, use every method possible to reach kids. Anyway, I wrote in about my students in Ohio and the impact the show has had on them. They called me the next day. I'm telling you, I'd been writing into the Oprah show since I was in high school, and this was a next day call! Over the next week, there were interviews and they asked me to send a video outlining my teaching style and how Oprah had influenced myself, my classroom, and my students. They also asked me to send pictures and even began interviewing one of my students from Ohio to possibly have him on an episode. That was really cool. Eventually, it all fell through, but I was thankful for the experience.

In October, while on staff retreat in Branson, I received an e-mail inviting me to one of Oprah's shows as an audience member. I was scheduled to attend a teaching conference at the time, so I said no. I had been invited as an "ultimate viewer," so I knew it was probably a big deal, but Brady and I felt checked about backing out of my commitment as a teacher, and I wanted to be sure I did what was right. I found out later it was the "Favorite Things" episode, and they gave out cars and know the mantra. "you get a get a car..."

I was, of course, sad that I didn't go, but I was glad I made the right decision. Brady said he felt that God had another plan. Who knew what that was! December rolled around and we had the scare of our lives as the reality of cancer was in our family. I had a cyst on my ankle that was "sarcoma," and I had surgery the week before Christmas. With all the signs pointing to cancer, incluindg my surgeon feeling it couldn't be anything but cancer, the report came back clean - and we had a miracle on our hands! Much rejoicing at the Christmas season!

Just a few weeks ago, I was in my kitchen and saw my cell phone ring - it was a 312 number, which I only know to be a Chiago area code. Sure enough, it was another producer from the Oprah Show. She said that they kept coming back to my story,that they loved the idea of the influence Oprah had through the use of her episodes in my classroom, and she had a few questions for me. It seemed really cryptic, but during the next few days, she called to interview me and then began to interview my students from Oklahoma. One thing led to another, and in a matter of two days, there was a film crew in my classroom filiming my teaching and interviewing me "possibly" for the finale of Oprah's season - the Surprise Spectacular put on by the Harpo team. Nothing was in stone, and my students had fun participating in this exciting adventure. We had a blast that day, and who knew what would happen next?

During my interview I was able to talk about all the passion I have as a teacher for using tools in the classroom to allow students to feel they can be heard - especially about the tough topics - the taboo things students are afraid to talk about. I talked about learning from my students and just as Oprah has learned from her audience and her guests, I want to learn from my students. We talked about the world as her classroom. I talked about allowing students to shed the masks they wear and be able to feel like their opinions count. I talked about the positive things the teachers in my school were doing in education, and that we don't highlight the positive near enough - all we often hear about is the negative.

The film crew went back and the producer took the film to Harpo. They ended up loving it and I was inviting to participate in a suprise for Oprah, showing just how far her influence has stretched. Several of my students had been interviewed, and I made an incredible connection with the producer I worked with in my classroom. She called me in a day or so and said it was a go - that they were going to go ahead and book my travel to Chicago and I was going to be on the show.

It was my 12th wedding anniversary, so Brady and i went up a few days early to spend some time together before the taping. It was SUCH a GOD thing, because our youth pastor was scheduled to preach that Sunday and we got to have a road trip together. We had some wonderful days in Chicago and then it was time...

We were picked up at the Omni Hotel by Windy City was actually a mini-bus. There were many other viewers on board for many different reasons. Some had been on Oprah's trip to Australia, others were being featured on small video segments about Oprah's influence in their lives. Upon arrival at the United Center we were escorted in the back entrance where the celebrities were entering, so they hurried us through to our green room, which was the Stadium Club. There we were checked in by Harpo staff and briefed on our segments. We also received hair and make-up at that time (which was "commoners" don't get that for free very often!!!)

Brady was escorted in before I was because he was a "plus one" as they called him. They took him in early enough for him to witness many of the celebrities (Beyonce, Katie Holmes, Madonna) rehearsing what they were going to say that night. He took a lot of pictures - and I am so glad he did, since I didn't bring my phone or camera into the stadium. When I arrived, he pointed out who was already there. In our section, two rows in front of us were Rita Wilson (Tom Hanks' wife) and Bob Greene. A couple rows in front of them were Stedman (Oprah's partner) and Gayle King. It was fun watching their reactions to everything as well.

It took some time for everything to start - I think we waited about an hour and a half for all the seats to fill. They won't start until they are all full. One of the producers "warmed us up" with Benny the Bull and some dancers. Everyone was excited to get going. I guarantee I won't remember everyone we saw, but I can mention a few:

Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Queen Latifah, Madonna, Will and Jada Smith, Jerry Seinfeld, Aretha Franklin, Usher, Beyonce, Rascal Flatts, Halle Berry,Stevie Wonder, Jaime Foxx, Katie Holmes, Patti LaBelle, Josh Groban, and more. My favorite was Michael Jordan. Of course, they announced him the way they did at all Bulls' games, and Brady snapped a picture of my reaction to him. He rarely makes appearances, so it was pretty cool to see him there.

My segment took place after Jerry Seinfeld did a stand up routine. What they did throughout the night was move Oprah around to different sections so she wouldn't know what was coming. They cleared out the front row of my section (except for Stedman and Gayle and a couple others) and sat me at the end of the row. My instructions were not to tell Oprah who I was. They brought her to me and after she greeted Jerry's wife (they sat next to her) she sat down and patted my leg. I told her this night was amazing. Next Will and Jada Smith talked about Oprah wanting to be a teacher if she wasn't a talk show host. They then prepped my video. My video was about 2 minutes long, and it featured an interview with me, interviews with a couple of my students, and video of me teaching in the classroom using Oprah's episodes. As soon as Oprah realized it was me, she put her arm around me and played with my hair. We both started crying when I saw my students on the screen. After the video clip was over, Jada Smith said, "Carrie Wisehart, please stand!" I did, and then afterward Oprah and I hugged. I thanked her and we spoke briefly - then she was whisked off to her next segment.

The end of the night culminated in Aretha singing Amazing Grace. I found myself raising my hand in praise and then realized I wasn't in church- but it felt that way. Usher then entered and sang, "O Happy Day." It was so awesome seeing "...when Jesus washed my sins away" on the United Center ticker. Both Oprah and Stedman had their hands in the air. After it was all over, Will proclaimed that we had been "in church!!!" God was there and most of the people in that stadium didn't even know it.

We were filming for over 4 hours. By the end of the night we were all "happy exhausted..." and headed back to the hotel. There were many beautiful moments during the evening: Kristen Chenoweth sang "For Good" while over 400 men marched to the stage. Men who Oprah paid to go through college. We learned that Oprah had supported over 64,000 people to go to school. We learned Target is going to build 25 libraries in honor of Oprah and plant over 25,000 oak trees. Each of us had a book under our chairs that will go to a library that blew down during Katrina. All in all, though I don't agree with everything Oprah has done, she has left a footprint in many positive ways. I was honored to be part of all that.

God works in mind-blowing, crazy ways. He cares about our desires, and he cares about everyone. I was able to have some very significant God conversations with the producer I worked with, the driver who took me to the airport, other viewers, and many of my friends. I also had some other significant conversations with a producer about some future opportunities for education. Who KNOWS what our crazy God has in store!!! All I know is that He is good, his plans are good, and I trust Him for what will happen next. :)