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Teachers' Lounge: The Renaissance Man

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In celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week in May, Teach Plus interviewed six of the many inspiring teachers we know. We decided to keep interviewing (and celebrating!) teachers because ... well ... why not?

In the Teachers' Lounge today, meet Dwight Davis, who has been teaching in the Washington, D.C. public schools for seven years. Dwight currently teaches fifth grade at Wheatley Education Campus, and is a Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellow.

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What inspired you to become a teacher?

I will never forget my first teaching opportunity. As a child, I loved sharing my thoughts and ideas with others. At my church, it was customary for a young person to review and summarize the children's Sunday School lesson for the adults. On the day I was asked to do this, I stood nervously before my elders. After discussing the theme of the story, and its practical application, I thanked the adult class for their willingness to listen. What happen next totally shocked my little mind. The entire class stood up and gave me a standing ovation. It was from that point on that I knew I had a teaching gift. In many ways I have been teaching ever since. Currently I teach fifth grade.

Aren't fifth graders awesome?

In my opinion, fifth grade is the awesomest grade to teach. It's a very pivotal year. Students are making critical decisions about the types of individuals that they hope to be. I find that more so than any other time in their development, fifth graders are particularly receptive to pursuing and believing in their dreams.

Is it true that you played professional basketball overseas?

Yes. I also played semi-professional basketball here in the US. I played for the Reading Firedogs in the Eastern Basketball Alliance. Overseas, I played in Bogota, Colombia and in Nottingham, England.

What was that like?

It was a tremendous experience. Traveling the world, meeting new people, and immersing myself in different cultures was one of the most eye-opening experiences I have ever had.

While in Colombia, however, I learned of my acceptance into Princeton Theological Seminary's dual master's degree program and off I went. Don't get me wrong, playing ball provided me with some unbelievable experiences. Basketball took me to college, taught me discipline, and instilled within me a great sense of pride and self-belief. But when the game was over, I didn't want to be known simply as a basketball player. This is in no way a knock on athletes. My point is just that there is a lot more work to be done in the world after a successful basketball career. Just ask Kevin Johnson and David Robinson. Both of these gentlemen have started their own schools.

How do your studies at seminary influence your work as a teacher?

I actually have two master's degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary -- a Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts in Christian Education. Last year I completed a certificate in Reading and Literacy from The George Washington University.

My educational background definitely shapes the way I view myself, my work as a teacher, and my students. I very much view my students, and the students within my school, as unbelievably gifted human beings. No matter their circumstances, there is nothing too difficult for them to accomplish. As a result of this, I have very high expectations for my classes. These expectations are academic as well as social. It is my expectation that my students do well academically, and that they are top-notch individuals who show respect, are courteous to others, and recognize and experience the joy of giving and sharing in their pursuit of justice.

With an MA in Christian Education, what brought you to teach in DCPS?

I wanted to teach within the public school system because I felt that the public school system was the place of greatest need. Also, I am a proud product of the District of Columbia Public School system. Simply put, I believe in public schools.

Where can you be found when you're not in the classroom?

When I am not in my classroom, I can be found in the library, playing with my boys, at church, or working out.

I don't think people fully grasp how involved teaching is. Teaching requires time, commitment, and a whole lot of reflection if we hope to be good. Greatness requires even more.

You're a dad, right? How do you balance being a parent and being a teacher?

Balance ... what is that? I love my students, I love my family, I love my wife (without her I think I would have crashed and burned out a long time ago), I love my church, I love myself, and I love teaching and learning. That being said, I can't say that I have my ideal level of balance. It is a constant struggle.

Do your students ever tease you? What about?

That would definitely be my propensity to be unyielding with the work. Just this week three students asked me, "Mr. Davis, why are we still doing work? There are only seven days left in school." My response was, "Because we still have seven more days in school. Now go complete your chapter review."

What is one thing you would like to change about the current state of the teaching profession?

If I could change one thing about the teaching profession, I think I would place greater emphasis on family engagement. This year our school partnered with the Flamboyan Foundation. This nonprofit works with schools and develops capacity for home visits. This year I visited more than 80% of my class twice. These visits boosted student achievement, led to increased parental involvement, and had a great impact on my ability to drive instruction.

What are you most proud of as a teacher?

As a teacher I am most proud when I can help a student find his or her love of reading. To watch a child go from a reluctant reader to an avid reader is magical. Literacy is a powerful thing.

Anything else you want to tell us?

My work as a teacher is rooted in my philosophy of education. I truly believe that all students can learn. And I believe that all teachers who are dedicated to their students and have a desire to teach effectively can teach. All students who strive to do their best will be successful! This mantra has no boundaries, no limitations, no prerequisites, no labels and no belief that the student cannot.