Teacher Feature: Mr. Smith- Part One


Amanda Rose Jones, Editor

Mr. Smith is a young teacher employed at Obama, who works mostly with the tenth grade students. He’s one of the calmest, corniest and goofiest teachers on staff. This interview is a small ‘Get to Know Me,’ and in it is a large amount of information about teaching, his students, and Obama in general.

Amanda Jones: What made you want to teach?

Mr. Smith: So, I was in business. My first degree was in marketing and business. And I had a very flexible schedule so I did some volunteer work with a mentoring program down in Homewood at Faison Elementary. I was hanging there every friday and I would go to lunch, go to a few classes with some of the guys, and I saw that there were no male teachers at their school. Just the principals, and the usual stereotypes. Principal, gym teacher, and custodian. And a lot of these kids just didn’t see any men in their life that valued education, or had college degrees. So I kind of felt, that I just wanted to teach as a guy, cause there just isn’t a lot of guys in the city teaching. Just to show that college is not just for women. That you don’t just have to go out at eighteen and then go make your money. Like if you invest for a few years, you can provide even more for your family.

AJ: Just for the sake of it, where are you originally from?

Mr. S: From Wheeling, West Virginia! Born and raised in West Virginia. Lived there through high school, then I moved to Morgantown for college, Morgantown, West Virginia. Then I moved to Dallas, Texas to go to grad school for education and to begin my teaching career.

AJ: You don’t know how to stay in one place.

Mr. S: Well, no. But I think we’re going to stay here, it’s our first house.

AJ: So, you taught in so many different states and districts, what made you leave them?

Mr. S: So, we always wanted to get back to Pittsburgh. I know, if you’re from Pittsburgh that’s a weird thing, but when you’re from West Virginia, you don’t have a ton of opportunity. (Pause here as students began floating into his classroom randomly) So yeah, I wanted to teach in Pittsburgh. What I didn’t want to do is teach in the suburbs. I have friends who teach, and they just sit at their desks making and giving an assignment. They just kinda do it. And they’re like, “my job’s boring. I do the same thing everyday.” Teaching, I don’t think should be boring. So I like that, I’m always up. That we’re always engaging in education, that we’re always working together. And so I wanted to be at a school that is challenging but rewarding. Why I picked Obama? In fact, I turned down an interview here three times. But- cause I had heard bad things about it. Uh, but they kept calling me and calling me. I lived across the street, just across the seminary, so I told my wife, “look. They’re hassling me, I can just actually walk out the house and turn the corner and be there. And I was really impressed that a lot art programs, sport programs, like academic things.. like debate and YAG and all this stuff.

AJ: Mock Trial?

Mr. S: Mock trial yeah. For me.. that is what made my highschool experience fun. I didn’t come to school for my math class, no offence to your math teachers, I came to school because I was in soccer! I was in steel drums and jazz band, I came for the activities. And so, there are a lot of activities here, and for being a smaller highschool, there is a ton you can do. Like you’re doing right now- journalism. Writing for the school newspaper. For me, I wanted to teach at a place where my students weren’t just focused on my class. I’m not one of those teachers who is like, “my class means everything.” Like cool. Yeah, do my one or two chapters a night. Also go play your soccer game, go do debate, that’s what you should do.

AJ: Can you see yourself keeping a permanent position at this school?

Mr. S: So permanent is a strong word. I talk about this alot, like I’m totally happy here. I’m not looking to go anywhere else. I’m not allowed to retire in the district till I’m sixty-five. So I’m thirty-three. So I think, that’s thirty-two more years. That’s about double my entire life. Uh, in five years do I think I’ll be happy here? Yeah. But in twenty years? The kids will seem so little, and I’ll seem so out of touch. I don’t know.

AJ: You think so? We’re not out of touch with teacher’s like Mr. Denlinger. It seems like the older teachers get, the more relatable and cooler they are. We love our older teachers, like really do.

Mr. S: And that’s what I think. So, yeah, fifty-three? I guess.. I guess yeah my students will be around the age as my kid. I think I would be still hopefully- aware of what’s going on. I think that I would like it, but thirty-two years seems like a long time. So when you say permanent, it feels like, “woah. That’s a long time.” Longer than my home mortgage, longer than a lot of marriages. But for now I’m really happy.

AJ: Maybe if you stay here long enough they’ll give you a room with a window?

Mr. S: Yeah, give me not this heat, and a window. Thirty-two years sounds pretty easy.

AJ: Where did you go to college, and did you enjoy it?

Mr. S: Yeah, I went to West Virginia. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it for a lot of different reasons. The community that I went there, people from all over the world, I got to travel abroad when I was in college, to Ireland. And then I backpacked through Europe and I think college is what you make it. So if you stay in your dorm, and just study all the time in the library, and don’t get involved, don’t make new friends, don’t travel, college is just any other time in your life. But if you take advantage of these things, it’s really fun. And, I met my wife there so, it’s pretty cool.

AJ: What is your ideal teaching environment?

Mr. S: That is a really good question, I’ve never been asked that. So, my ideal teaching environment.. I think it’s a space where we are all learning. Like the day that I feel like I have nothing left to learn, is the day when I should go back to my business career. Because.. I remembered having teachers that seemed like they just knew everything, and they never wanted to hear from you. Or if they interpreted a book one way, and we the students challenged them on that- like “hey, I don’t think that’s what it is.” And we would even defend it and they would just be like, “no you’re just wrong about that.” I hate that. So I love an environment where I’m asking questions, the students are asking questions, and we are able to make sense of our world through the way we communicate. Whether it’s through writing or whether it’s through stories… just people coming with an open mind. But maybe coming with some questions. So I love- the moments that I really love is when people read on their own and they say, “hey- when I read this it made me think about this thing in the news. Am I off on that, or can I make that connection?” And that shows not only are you taking the material from class, but that you are applying it to real life. And when you do that in a classroom, I know that those students are going to continue to be successful. Because whatever college.. Whatever job they get too, they’re going to look at what they are doing for their work, and how it applies to the world around them. So I feel like those are moments where we are setting up for future success.

AJ: List five adjectives to describe the learning environment at Obama.

Mr. S: Uhm.. not the ideal one? Or just the way it is right now?

AJ: Just five adjectives. Right now, don’t think too hard about it. Just the first thing that comes to your mind.

Mr. S: Hot. Uh, sorry I’m so analytical. In my classroom, or just Obama in a whole?

AJ: Give me your classroom.

Mr. S: Okay, in my classroom. Uhm.. controversial. Unconventional.. Relevant. Dang, I don’t know if I should be.. Uh, we’ll say- potential. What I mean by that is some days we unlock it for most the students, and then some days for whatever is going on at home or in the hallways, I feel like there is unmet potential sitting at a desk, here. Or maybe in a couple other places, not even just a particular student. Is that three?

AJ: Four.

Mr. S: Yeah, compelling. I’m always learning everyday. Like I’m fascinated by peoples stories, and how they take three buses to get here by 6:40 in the morning. And how they work a job during the week, and weekends, and still do a sport, and get the homework done, and get six GRAPES projects at once. Like you guys just inspire me, so you know, I’m compelled.

AJ: Do you read for pleasure?

Mr. S: I do. Not the same type of stuff. I used to read a lot of novels, my wife loves to read novels. But because I’m studying them a lot, it’s weird. People who are in research fields, politics, or business, to escape they read novels. And for me it’s flipped. I read business, I read politics, I read journalism. Like I really.. now that I have kids and to like see the world they’re growing up in I just really want to be informed. Even just like ten years ago, I voted for an entire other party. And so I feel like my worldview has changed a lot through the people that I’ve met, and through the articles and journalism I’ve read.