Why I Teach Where I Teach: Increasing Levels of Professional Autonomy and Commitment to Community
Justin Robinson is a seventh-grade teacher at Samuel P. Massie Academy in Maryland, where more than 75 percent of students receive free or reduced-priced meals and more than 95 percent of students are African American.
Four years ago, when I began teaching at Samuel P. Massie Academy, my principal gave me books to begin my professional library and a list of classrooms to observe. One of the books deciphered student motivation, and one of the classrooms was a teacher who only taught in small groups. That principal understood the wisdom of empowering a faculty to cultivate new talent and to continue to challenge and develop one another.
Over time, I have grown to feel a sense of responsibility for the school because my principal has entrusted me with increasing levels of professional autonomy. I have had leadership opportunities as diverse as crafting the master schedule and running our after-school enrichment program. Now, as the math department chair and lead teacher, I facilitate professional development opportunities in mathematics with other teachers — like my mentors did for me when I began.
While my mentors taught me instructional technique, their commitment to professional community reminded me about our responsibility to the greater community. In an academy, we teach students from Head Start through eighth grade. Invariably, staff and students build relationships that last longer than the 10 years students can spend here. Ten years is substantial, but after including time spent returning after promotion for sporting events, visiting the gym shared with the community center, or picking up a younger sibling, Samuel P. Massie Academy has become an even greater fixture in the lives of students.
Having grown up 15 minutes away, I chose to teach here because of our sense of community. And now, I continue to teach here because of my position and involvement with the continued development of this community.
This post is a part of an ongoing series, called “Why I Teach Where I Teach,” which asks educators in high-need schools to share what has attracted (and kept) them in the challenging environments they’re in. They share important stories and experiences that should remind us all of the power of strong school leadership, a network of supportive colleagues, and the genuine opportunity to have a say in schoolwide decisions. Listen up! They’re teaching us.