Some call me "Flem"

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B.S.Ed | M.Ed | Ed.D student | Passionate | Compassionate | Purpose-driven | PUBLIC school teacher | There's a lot more...

Thursday, August 17, 2017

From Kelly to King


After spending ten years as a teacher at John B. Kelly Elementary School, I made the very difficult decision to leave. The decision to site-select out was just as hard for me to do as it was for me to articulate and for many of the Kelly community (and family and friends who know me best) to accept. I am looking forward to reuniting with some of my former students and to the new experiences that teaching at Martin Luther King High School will bring.

Words cannot express my gratitude to my first principal, Dr. Hackman, for taking a chance on a brother. I remember sitting before a panel of educators, who would later become my colleagues, and in front of Dr. Hackman while fielding questions about curriculum and discipline. I remember saying, "Listen, I don't know the curriculum, but I do know discipline. You teach me the curriculum because I have the discipline!" (I think I lived up to that, lol) I remember driving back to work in West Philly from that interview in Germantown and receiving a call that John B. Kelly wanted me, the next day. Ha! Nice! I remember being excited while also informing the administrator on the other end that I was honored, but felt it necessary to give my current job two weeks. She understood. That didn't stop me from going back to Kelly the next day to retrieve curriculum materials and previewing them during those next two weeks. While there, I took a little tour, and peeked my head into the classroom of the teacher who would be my partner teacher for nearly the next decade (with whom I worked until the end) and into room 105. 105, where there sat about 30 or so 6th graders; a group that would be my new homeroom. I remember a young lady asking, "Is he our new teacher?" "Yes," was the response from the Administrative Liaison. "Yes, and we're going to have a great year, aren't we," was the response from the new teacher. We did.

One of the students with whom I worked that school year, would keep in contact with me over the years. He'd come to visit us at Kelly. We'd see each other in the neighborhood every now and then. That same young man who was a student my first year at Kelly would be a colleague during my last year at Kelly. Mr. Maurice! What are the odds? Times sure changed from year 1 to year 10. {insert heavy sigh *here*}. Maybe I'll share those changing times in another post.

To the district principal who recommended me to Dr. Hackman back then, thank you! You also took a chance on me, knowing that your reputation was on the line, but fully confident that this match would work. You know who you are :-)

I've formed many bonds and relationships that I will not soon forget! The rapport that I have with the kids, my old kids, their families, my colleagues, and the community are priceless! These bonds were the constant in times of uncertainty. These and the 'feel-good' moments that I haven't tweeted, the tears shed for the kids that I've not shared with the world, the prayers I've prayed, the heart-felt words over the years from parents, former students, my colleagues, and from people I didn't even know were watching, they all are a part of the fabric of the me that King is getting. At King, I'm looking forward to learning and to growing as an educator! I'm looking forward to making a positive impact wherever I can! I'm looking forward to...wait...that's it! I'm looking forward.

Here's to the next decade in education; rooted in Kelly, continuing at King, and forward.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Dinner chat with my aunt and retired teacher

Tonight members of our family got together to send off my cousin who will be moving down South. My cousin has been such an ardent force in the elevation of the conversation and perception of our young brothers of color, our Young Kings. A mother of two sons and an aunt, cousin, and mother-figure to many, her love, generosity and advocacy for young Black men and boys is unmatched! So tonight, it was her night! I'll miss her in this area, dearly, but I'm confident she'll make great strides and have a positive impact on our young kings wherever she goes!

Her mother, my aunt, is a retired Philadelphia public school teacher. To say she's "retired" is certainly a misnomer, as she finds areas, children, organizations, and just people in general, with whom she'll work; all in the name of teaching, learning, and advocacy! I've heard it said that when teachers get together it really is quite the experience. Where's the lie?

Anyone who knows me personally, knows that I love to sit and learn under more experienced (and caring, loving, and beautiful) 'others'. My aunt is certainly one. As we sat and talked over her house salad and sweet potato and my parmesan herb crusted chicken and mashed potatoes, one line of the conversation resonated with me.

"They've got to love our children! If they don't, it won't work!"

This came up as our conversation oscillated between newer, younger teachers entering the profession, principals who are about the same age, the relationships we form with our respective students, and the importance of family and community engagement.

We salute the new teachers entering the classroom. We urge all principals to be teachers. Let that be the very essence of who you are. In September, we'll welcome our students back to school! And we look forward to working with the parents, families, and communities of which we're a part!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Academic excellence at church

I often express the pride that I have for students I taught in the public school system, here in Philly. Let me take the time to express my great pride in students I have not taught, but who I've watched grow into phenomenal young men and women, the youth of the Christ Haven Church here in Philly!

Tonight, our scholarship committee celebrated the academic achievements of our youth both verbally and tangibly, $$. Love is an action word and that love was on full display earlier this evening! Let me get preachy for a sec. I believe that we can talk about our great God, but that we should also demonstrate such in our work! The kids' GPAs, their scholastic recognitions, their attendance records, man, I couldn't be prouder! Saturday, there was a trunk party for one young lady headed off to school while simultaneously, at another location, a surprise cook-out for another young lady who graduated with her Masters in Art Ed with a focus on special populations. Listen!! This is what excellence looks like!

I celebrate these kids and young men and women! My heart has been overjoyed all evening! Whatever we do, let's do it with a spirit of excellence!

This concept transcends any religious belief or none at all! If you're going to do something, do it and do it well! My world view is that of a Christian. So, whatever I do, I want it to be pleasing in His sight! The many youth recognized tonight did well! All the best to those headed to college, high school, middle school, or moving up! God bless you! Hit me up whenever you need to! My love for you is strong, you already know! ✊πŸΎπŸ–€πŸ’―

~Unk

Charter school talk on a Sunday morning

It's Sunday morning. All I wanted to do was head to Wawa and the MAC machine, go back home and get ready for church. I didn't necessarily mean to eavesdrop on a conversation about a Chester (PA) charter school. *wink*

I started ear-hustlin when I heard the words, "Chester charter..."

"Is your child in the enrichment program?"

"No"

"Because if they're in the enrichment program, the school is good. If not..."

" "

"Yeah, if they're in the enrichment program, they cater to them. They cater to the smart kids because that's their money, you know, when they take those tests. But if they're not in the enrichment program...."

And with that, I'm going to drive out of this Wawa parking lot and head to the ATM...

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Conscientious Ear-hustlers

According to the U.S. Department of Education (2014), Black boys are suspended and expelled from school at higher rates than boys of other ethnicities. The scholarship is also rife with the fact that Black boys are also overrepresented in special education (Bryan & Ford, 2014 and many others). Speaking of special education, one research study suggests that some teachers make judgement calls about special education for Black boys based on how they walk (Neal, McCray, Webb-Johnson, & Bridgest, 2003). Yes, you read that correctly. Walk.



As we embark upon a new school year, let's rethink what we know about teaching and learning as it relates to our young Black male students. While it would be nice to see an increase in the number of Black male educators in our public schools (a notion I embrace, advocate for, and work behind the scenes with brothers on), this as the sole solution to the problem oversimplifies the complex and systemic nature of the problem that exists, that being the other 'r' in our school systems, racism. Sometimes it's subtle and at other times it's right there in our not-so-subtle policies and practices (ahem, Zero Tolerance) in schools. While I am a huge proponent of a diversified workforce, especially when it comes to Black men who will be effective in the profession, we cannot sit and wait; for some of our well meaning colleagues may feel absolved of their obligation to even try to work with our young Black male students if we do so. No ma'am, no sir, no absolution here.

Want to know how Black boys learn best?

Ask. Do not believe for one second that they do not have opinions about how they like to learn. Ask them. Working together? Listening to music in the background? Alone?

Observe. Be conscientious in your ear-hustlin' (eavesdropping) and in your overall observations. You can learn a lot by sitting in the cut, shutting up, and watching. 

Make meaning of what you see and hear. When making that meaning, however, you must converse with your students, with their parents, with other adults who know them and are familiar with the culture and customs of the students with whom your work. Making meaning in a bubble may only solidify incorrect interpretations of what you're observing.

In short, be a student of your students!

Even for me, being a "brotha" and fully invested in this calling, I found myself asking my summer high school students questions about language, music, and ways of thinking. In a subsequent conversation with my sister, who also teaches, we spoke about how I made attempts to incorporate my new found knowledge into the classroom. Because of the nature of the summer work, the conversation with those young men was the way that I incorporated it into the classroom. I was their student for 10 minutes.




We've been rehashing the same trite pedagogy long enough. We've been narrow-minded in our chase of test scores long enough. Let's stop the insanity and learn how our young Black men learn best and adjust accordingly. Yes, there may be pushback. But if a little pushback is the worst that can happen and we teach using a paradigm and pedagogy that is liberating and relevant for Black male students, let them push! 

References
United States Department of Education. (2014, March). Civil rights data collection: Data snapshot: School discipline (Issue Brief No. 1). Washington, D.C.: Office for Civil Rights.

Bryan, N. & Ford, D. (2014). Recruiting and retaining black male teachers in gifted education. Gifted Child Today 37(3), 156-161. doi:10.1177/107621751453011

Neal, L., McCray, A., Webb-Johnson, G., and Bridgest, S. (2003). The effects of African American movement styles on teachers’ perceptions and reactions. Journal of Special Education, 37(3), 49-57

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Random Musings of a Black male teacher


Just some random thoughts on a Wednesday afternoon...

I’ve long held the belief that as a Black male teacher in Philadelphia’s public schools, my presence represents quite a bit.

To some of my students I represent the father, big brother, uncle, step-father, older cousin they never had but wished they had.
I also was the teacher they never had.

“Mr. Flemming, can you be my dad?”
“No baby girl, but I promise to be the best teacher I can possibly be!”
"Ok!" {Smiles and heads home}

To some, I’m hated and the very bane of their existence, drawlin’. To them I represent everything wrong with teachers these days (I've heard it said, lol)I’m the one they take all of their frustrations out on.
I also was the teacher they never had.

“Mr. Flemming can be so retarted sometimes.”
“Mr. Flemmings is crazy!! His mean and…”
“I f****n hate Mr. Flemming”

To some of my students, they don’t know how to read me, take me, accept me, or reject me. What to do? Who is this guy? Why are you here? Are you going to be like all the rest? By my behavior, I’m going to see how much you can take! I don’t like you and I’m too young to really know how to articulate why, I just don’t. And what’s your name again? Flemming? Like Flamingo? Like Flemit? Flemmings with an ‘s’? Flemy?
I also was the teacher they never had.

"You mean, but you nice too. I don't know how to put it!"

“If I were you, I’d quit!”
“Oh is that what you’re used to?!? You’re used to people just quitting on you when things get hard? No sir! No me! I’m here and I’m here to stay!”
{Years later, during a chance encounter in the neighborhood} “You still the best English teacher I ever had!”

To some, I’m the cool teacher; the first male teacher, the first…how did she write it…”boy teacher”…and in many cases, the first Black "boy teacher." And he’s from Philly? And he went to public schools in Philly? And he went to college in Philly? And he’s teaching in Philly? And I’d see him on SEPTA in Philly? Hopping on the XH or the H back to Broad and Erie. Popeye's where the McDonald's used to be? Nah, he don’t do Popeye’s. He jumpin’ on the sub, getting off at City Hall to get on the 13 headed to 60th and Kingsessing. Yooo! He said he originally from West and parts of Southwest, too. Is he a thug? But he talk so proper and whatnot but then the next minute, he talk in a way like he really from the hood. He wear a shirt and tie, but then he standing on top the desk wit a snapback, swag on a bean, corny rappin, but it's funny. He talkin' bout some "the main idea is...".  Who is this teacher and where he come from? This teacher I never had...

Snap by student HC, c/o 2017
I was tagged on social media
“Happy Birthday to the best reading teacher ever. And ur the smartest thug. Just know that I love you”
“I aint never had no teacher like you, Mr. Flemming”
“Ayo, this teacher thurl”
"I used to act up because I knew she'd send me to your class. I wanted to be in your class."

To some kids, I'm the school parent who reinforces what the birth parents at home represent. They know they can't get away with "it" here, either!

"My mom be saying the same thing!"
"He act just like my uncle!"
"You sound like my grandpop!"
"Mr. Flemming, you old school just like my {insert a relative}"

To others, I’ve been the one who kept it real and told it like it needed to be told; the one who would shut the door when the conversation really needed to get deep.
Whether it was about life…
“You are NOT stupid! You are NOT failures! You WILL succeed and you WILL work hard to get there! And I'm here to help! Point blank, period!!”

Whether it was a chat man-to-younger-man…
“Listen, when I come in here sagging, you can sag! If you see ya teacher wit his pants saggin’ low, you got my permission to do the same. But, until then…And if you wanna sag and show ya drawz, do it the minute you step out this school. But while you here, pull ‘em up!”

Or whether it was about fighting,
“My rule for fighting is this, you gotta fight and whoop me first! You whoop me, then y’all can have at it! I’m six-foot, 220, by the way”

Still yet for others, I represent the last bit of hope. If this don’t work out, the future is uncertain. Life has not thrown lemons, but the moldy rinds!

Crying agonizingly, “Please don’t tell my uncle!! He gonna send me away!”

“Mr. Flemming, you the last one I got left to look up to!”
Me, “You can join your class, I’ll come get y’all in a second.” Dismissed him. Went to a corner of my classroom and bawled like a baby after listening to a 2-minute read of an apology letter he chose to write for something he had done the day before; a letter that detailed the enigma for him called “life”.

To some parents and others I represent, "Finally!" or "I was sure hoping she'd have you!" or "I'm so grateful, Mr. Flemming!" or what was I called, a "miserable, evil teacher" who had "one lonely depressed child[hood] growing up." #Memories lol

There are many other examples, countless other anecdotes, and myriad other experiences on which I could dwell and enumerate, but for now, I will not. There are so many feel good moments, moments of triumph over adversity, moments of joy and pure ecstasy, moments of “We got this” moments where real, authentic, and meaningful teaching and learning experiences were occurring! Man oh man! Too many to mention! Moments when they had their teacher’s back in the midst of adversity that was not so well hidden! There are also moments of profound sorrow and disappointment. The loss of life. The incarceration of kids who look like me! Yet there remains an unexplainable hope, a sense of what can be, and the possibility of a rose growing out of concrete (Shakur, 1999). As I transition from the public neighborhood elementary school I've called home for a decade to the public neighborhood high school, I have a feeling there’s more to come.

I’m not perfect, I just keep trying.


[The quotes are actual quotes from me or students over the years, preserved in notes, my memory, social media posts, my notebooks, etc.]

Monday, June 5, 2017

Final Day at Maplewood

Sadly, today was our final day reading with the residents at Maplewood Manor Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center. As I mentioned in previous posts about our visits there, we establish an intergenerational bond with the residents while there and while reading with them.




With every visit, we add a little something, planned or unplanned, to the experience. The last time we visited, we sought to gather the stories of a few of the residents, write them up in a mini-biographical sketch and read them back to them. Well, if it can go wrong, it will. We started the process, but for a wide variety of reasons, we were unable to completely finish this mini-project. Undeterred, we pressed on.


As the kids were finishing the short stories and poems we brought along with us, one had the idea to sing to the residents. I can't lie, I was hesitant. I, however, was not going to be the one to stifle their excitement. So #onward...sing children! At first, a smaller group of them sang to the residents at one table. The song of choice, The Star Spangled Banner, which we're learning for our 5th grade Move-Up Day next Friday. Cute. lol That went well! I thought they'd be nervous, but nah! That must've been me.

Then another one of them got the idea to sing to all of those who were in the dining area. Ok. Now I'm even more hesitant. Were they going to stop us? Would the residents respond? What about those working in their offices? I'm not a worrier, so it bewildered me why I was worrying now. Still, I set aside my feelings and let them have at it. To overcome my apprehension, I gave them a quick public speaking, 10-second mini-lesson.

Introduce yourselves, especially for those with whom you didn't read.
Tell them where you're from. John B. Kelly Elementary School.
Tell them what you want to do. Sing.
Tell them what you're singing. The Star Spangled Banner and the Black national anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing.

As the children sang, those who hadn't read with us, moved their wheelchairs, got up from where they were seated, or looked up, and were quite the captive audience. My "allergies" started to act up when a grandfather and his two guests, moved to where I was seated and were moved by these young voices. One of his guests, "Ms. Alice", wanted to know more about who we were, where we were from, and why we were there. She stated that Mr. Resident (for privacy sake), really enjoyed what he heard and loves this sort of thing.

Another resident, with whom we hadn't worked before, really expressed his joy at having the opportunity to sit with one of students as they read and learned from each other. I overheard much of their conversation and I wanted to just sit in rapture.

I cannot quite put into words the connections WE made and how we felt. To know me is to know that I have a special place in my heart for those who are older and have had some experiences. It was good for the kids and me, all of us, to be a part of this intergenerational experience!