Teacher Feature: Mr Smith- Part Two


Amanda Rose Jones, Editor

I’m back with the second half of my interview with Mr. Smith, the tenth grade English teacher and debate coach at Obama.

AJ: What do you think is one of your weaknesses when teaching?

Mr. S:  The one that gets me the most.. and it really has to do with just not a lot of free time because of the babies, is staying active with the data from my students. So, what I would love to do, like if I didn’t have any kids or if I was single, I would create assignments in such a way that you guys would be getting them back quickly. So that you guys could sort of chart your progress, kind of like we did here. That’s like one skill, but I want everyone to know- and that’s a big one for the Keystone, I want everyone to know that hey, “I’m really good at nonfiction. And when I say I’m good at nonfiction I mean I’m really good at deciphering fact from opinion.” Or, “when I read nonfiction my data is showing me that I don’t pull the evidence as well as I need to.” I would love if everyone had time to really look at their data with my feedback to make some goals. That’s just a lot of extra intensive work for a subject like mine that’s really abstract, so a student turns in a paragraph and I have to assign some data points to it. It’s not like math where I can say, “when we do factors you get 19/20 right.” It’s a lot more abstract and so it takes more free time to make trends work for students. So one day when my kids are in kindergarten and they don’t wake up at five am, which is only a few years away. I’m gonna see how that goes.

AJ: What do you think is one of your strengths?

Mr. S: So we talked earlier, I’m not somebody that I don’t think people would think that I lose my cool. And it’s because I respect, like I really do respect my students. Honestly, I care for them. There’s not one student who if they say, “f- you,” if I tell them to put their phone away.. The next day I’m not ready to give them another chance. And I’m not a yeller, and I’m not trying to rule by intimidation. But I think it’s weird for people in August and September, “like who is this nerdy sarcastic guy?” I think I’m consistent, and they know that I’m not somebody who harbors bitterness or plays favorites. I had teachers who I knew that if I screwed up with them, I lost them for the whole year. I really- not one person crosses my mind where I’m like, “that person is never gonna be able to get on my good side.” Like they’ve just severed their relationship. I hope that my students see that, that everyday is a different day.

AJ: You run the debate club so tell me a bit about that. What does it consist of? What grade makes up the majority of the club?

Mr. S: Yeah, so it’s year two. So in year two… I would kind of say tenth grade, because we see each other a lot. The clubs tricky, because the club is eight to ten people. They kind of like ebb and flow throughout the semester as they try out different clubs. So the club was student generated. A guy who is a senior now, he really wanted to do debate. His mom approached me his sophomore year, she had said, “hey, you’re his English teacher. Do you know anybody who could do debate?” She actually asked if I would judge for a private school competition. And so we started conversations a few years ago when he was a sophomore, and we put a team together last year. But its still new, so next year is gonna look different. If students want to be more involved in debate, we’ll do more with it. If they want to just make it mostly club, and just kind of just wanna go back and forth on issues, we’ll do less. So, I don’t have a vision for it except that it would be rewarding for the students that want to do it. So if that means more formal competitions, or even less, that’s fine. We’ll just see who wants to do it.

AJ: Why teach English? Is it a subject you wanted to teach? Did anything inspire you to teach it?

Mr. S: Yeah, it kind of goes back to the things I like to read now. Truth is so subjective in our culture. It’s one thing to say, “while I hate Trump.” Why? Like what about his policies do you hate? It’s so easy to pile on him, or whatever the issues is. Like, “I’m pro-life!” Or, “I’m for gay marriage!” Whatever the issue is that are these hot bun issues, do you have evidence to back it up? And so that’s what’s fun about English. When you communicate and you just make claims, but you can’t substantiate them. In the real world, that won’t get you far. You’re just like the random Foxnews pun that just says whatever in order to get ads. But when you can support your claims, now your communication leads somewhere. Whether you’re at college, or at a job, or getting a job, or at a scholarship, when you can support your thesis, essentially. So that’s what’s fun about English. Not everybody has to agree on the same answer. That’s different from Math and Science. But you’re trying the best to take what you have, take your experience and the material and making a claim that is based in evidence.

AJ: What is your philosophy when educating others?

Mr. S: As mentioned earlier, to be humble and open-minded. To learn as much as I teach. And so to ask questions when I’m not necessarily looking, like when we’re having a discussion in class. There may be something I’m bringing to the discussion like, “I wonder if they’re going to say what I think about this.” But I don’t ask them in a way where I hope we all land in the same place. I hope that some opinions come out that make me uncomfortable, so when I’m going home I can think, “man. Because I’m a straight white male, I just never knew that race thing, or this sexuality thing.” But now based off learning from my students, my perspectives different.

AJ: What do you like most about teaching?

Mr. S: It’s never a dull day. Like it’s always a challenge, you can always improve. When I was in business, there was a research project that I was working on, where you’re collecting data and your loading it in a system. It helps with trends, but everyday was the same day for about a four week period. And that’s just not something that inspires me. Everyone comes in with hurts and hangups, victories and good things. Thirty of us come into a room with all this baggage, good and bad everyday. And it effects the way we learn and discuss, and that’s cool. That’s fun.

AJ: What do you think is the largest problem your student’s face today?

Mr. S: There’s the immediate stuff… okay we’ll go two ways with this. Immediately, I think that there’s not a ton of.. I’ll say this, my most successful students have involved parents. Whether it’s both, or one, or a very involved grandma, somebody always knows what’s going on in their classes. My least successful students have parents that say, “oh. But he goes to the library right after school for a couple of hours. But I don’t know what he’s reading, I don’t know what he’s doing.” And so, the thing that is most challenging is for whatever reason, if a mom has three jobs, I understand why she can’t talk to her son about his schooling. That’s the hardest thing for me. That if there was just a parent available that knew the questions to ask about their learning, there would be a lot more really successful. But we get back to this systematic thing, that because of race and privilege, and red lining and all the stuff that goes on in our city, some families don’t have- or free time is just a privilege. The fact that some families can have, and sit around at a dinner table and talk about their day, that means they have jobs that have normal hours. And that provide food for the table, and they have a table in a house. But the way our society is set up, not every home is afforded a dinner table to sit around and to talk about their days. So when that’s not there, not only does the mother and dad or the family unit feel this extra stress, but their just not able to have conversations about their kids schooling. It would keep their child feeling like, “hey, what I do at school.. It matters to my family.” And some parents just see us as a necessity. That we just babysit their kids while they’re trying to find a good job, or trying to get to work. Its like, “thanks for babysitting them.” And as long as their not doing anything to hurt anybody it’s fine. And I know its no fault of theirs, it just financially what’s going on. But if that changed, I think a lot of our culture would change.

AJ: How do you address your students different learning styles?

Mr. S: Not as well as I’d like. These are really big classes and not a lot of time. So forty minutes with thirty students.. If you even talked to each person after you’ve gave the initial set up to a lesson,  and you just talked to each person, you would have a one minute conversation. And so, some students like to do reading and creative writing. Some don’t. Some would rather get notes. Some would rather learn by discussion, and some hate discussion. They would rather answer questions. So, some people like bubble tests. Some people hate bubbles tests. Some like short answer, some don’t. So I try different things.. Some people like to learn through film or clips of other things. I can always do better in that area. Which keeps the job interesting as I continue to find more ways to bring in more learners.

AJ: What do you think is the greatest part of teaching?

Mr. S: The greatest part of teaching is that we have moments in our days together where I know, “oh- she gets it. She is going to do something great.” And I’m sitting in our country in our world, and I get to see like a sneak peak of it. And she’s only fifteen or sixteen. When I see a light bulb go on, not just because of something I’ve brought to the table, but because somebody became the captain of the softball team. And she had never been a leader in anything before and she runs with it. Or when somebody wins an award, like an academic award, when he didn’t even want to do quizful or YAG or something. So it’s those moments where I see a kid being an adult, like a successful adult. And then the next day he might just be goofy again. But those are the moments where know, “okay. We’re going to be okay.” If you’re the future, we’ll be fine. And so those are the good days.

AJ: Are you happy here?

Mr. S: I am, yep. Truly.