In recent years, public school teachers have increasingly become the focus of criticism and blame by the media and politicians regarding school quality, re-directing our gaze from the true problems at hand in public schools (inequity, lack of funding, and lack of education-oriented leadership) and making the work of the teacher seem rote and impersonal. In fact, teaching is the most human of professions, and every teacher has an amazing story to tell about their lives and their work.
Transformative Teacher Profile posts are meant to “flip the script” and offer a counter-narrative to negative and dehumanizing stereotypes about public school teachers. Here you’ll read about truly transformative teaching, leadership, and inspiring work. The format is simple: I ask six questions of each teacher that I profile about their teaching and learning. If you know of amazing public school teachers that I should profile, please write me a comment below or send me a tweet about them!
I am so happy to profile Sam Reed III first, as he is the perfect example of a Transformative Teacher. I met Sam while working with the Philadelphia Writing Project, many years ago. He was just beginning to become active in the professional teacher network then. As time went on, his engagement in the network grew from participant to leader. More recently, he has invited me to participate in talks and events that he organized to support teacher professional development. He is a passionate teacher, thinker, connector, and entrepreneur. Below is his Profile.
- Can you share a little background with us about your teaching career? For example, what brought you into teaching? What do you teach?
I have been teaching middle school students to read, write, and think (literacy & social studies content) for over 15 years. Prior to teaching I ran my own information service and training company, and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Botswana. After my business went bankrupt, I decided I wanted to do something as impactful as being a “job creator.” I attended Temple University’s Graduate School of Education (Med’98), through the Peace Corps Fellows program.
- What motivates and sustains you as a teacher?
Fail fast, fail often, is the mantra I embody. I take my failures in the class or say a rejected grant application as the next step to reaching my goal. My entrepreneurial disposition sustains me as teacher. My practice is messy and complex. I have learned to embrace the order within the disorder “organized chaos.” Over the years I have learned to not beat myself up for things I can’t control. Yet, I remain resolved to not internalize the many failures and struggles along the way.
- What do you think needs to change or happen in education/schools?
The sorting of schools, teachers and students, based on test scores needs to be revisited. No Child Left Behind, has not improved the educational outcomes of the vast majority of students. Especially students in under-resourced communities. Fixing struggling schools requires a holistic approach to transform school spaces as community hubs that help to offset the impact of poverty. Poverty matters. Reformers need to recognize that economic and social policies impact educational outcomes. Teachers, Parents and students need to be key players in transforming our schools and our communities.
- I know you are a part of a lot of teacher networks. Can you describe a few and the roles you have played? Also, tell us how your work with these groups has shaped you as a teacher, and/or how these groups have effected change in the district?
Oh, I forget to mention earlier, that my teacher networks sustain me. The Philadelphia Writing Project was the first formal teacher network that I joined. In PhilWP , I found liked-minded educators and received the validation that made me feel like a valued member in a teaching and learning community. As a PhilWP, Teacher Consultant, I have participated in the local Steering Committee and served other leadership roles both locally and nationally through the National Writing Project. I am teacher representative for the Teachers Institute of Philadelphia. As Teacher Representative, I participated as a City Representative and Steering Committee Member of the Yale National Initiative, to strengthen teaching in public schools. I am an active core member of Teacher Action Group TAG Philly, where my focus has been leveraging teaching and learning networks to empower educators. I am also member of several national teaching and learning networks such the National Council of Teachers of English, International Reading Association, Association of Supervision Curriculum Development and the National Association of Media Literacy Education. I find membership these networks valuable for learning, sharing and disseminating information useful for professionalizing our industry . I also serve/ have served on several advisory boards/ panels including but not limited to the Philadelphia Arts in Education Partnership, Philadelphia Young Playwrights, Philadelphia School Partnership -Great Philly Schools Website-, and the Alliance of Young Artist and Writers.
- You are also doing a lot of work to support and sustain your school (Beeber Middle School), and have done some incredible work on engaging African American boys in writing – can you tell us a little more about these endeavors?
Beeber Middle School was on the closing block last year. I worked closely, with students, parents, teachers and community members in a campaign to Save Beeber Middle School. I published an article “ A Teacher Activist’s Response to Schools Closing” in the Penn GSE Perspectives of Urban Education online journal, that covers in details how my stance as a teacher activist influenced how I leverage coalition building and viewed schools as ecosystem to keep Beeber off the closing block
- What advice can you share with new teachers just entering the field?
New teachers should rely their own teacher network/ teacher posse to help navigate the tough terrain of in the profession. New teachers should take their work seriously, but not so serious that they don’t have a balanced life. If I were starting over in my teaching career, I would dance more and do more yoga. I found out latter in my career that dancing and yoga helped me be a better teacher, because it helped me be better person.