His email signature concludes with the following quote:
Every child deserves a champion; an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists that they become the best they can possibly be.
-Rita F. Pierson
When we reached out to Mr. S and asked him a few questions about teaching and books, his answers confirmed why THE MJ PROJECT believes Mr. S, a.k.a. Smitty, is indeed a champion for his students.
Tell us a little about yourself and your students.
I teach in an Intervention Resource Classroom in California. I am married (to a teacher) and have 3 sons. I love teaching, coaching and learning as many new things as possible. The students in my class come to us for support in Social Emotional Learning. My co-teacher and I, help our students learn the skills necessary to be successful in school and in life. We also provide academic support in our students' core curriculum classes.
How did you become interested in teaching?
I became interested in teaching after years of coaching and working as a youth pastor. I realized that if I wanted to fulfill my life mission of impacting young people positively I would have to go where the young people are and not wait for them to come to church or join a team. I took a position as a truancy officer in order to get my foot in the door at a charter school. From there I moved into a position at my current school district working as a Mentor through our districts Safe Student Intervention Program. This program was directed at working with gang impacted and affiliated students. We focused on raising grades and attendance while decreasing incidents of negative behavior. Also, we worked in times of crisis in order to ease tensions between rival gangs across our district’s campuses.
What inspired you to work with special education students?
Initially when I started working in education I did not want to be a special education teacher. I actually was interested in becoming an English or History teacher. I became drawn to Special Education due to my work with at-risk and gang affiliated/impacted students. I realized that many of these students qualified for services and that they needed someone who understood them to advocate for them in the world of education. It can be very difficult to navigate high school if you have never been taught the skills or if no one around you has the skills to do so.
Many of the students I worked with in the Safe Student program were also in our special education program, so I approached our district Director of Special Education about eventually becoming a SPED Teacher. He asked me to apply for a position in a new program being started called an Intervention Resource Classroom. I was hired as one of the two teachers working in the classroom , and I love what I do. We teach students Social Emotional Skills and help students navigate the high school experience. I get to work with the student who, for the most part, have been given up on by their previous schools/teachers. That is why I became a teacher, to be a voice for the students who typically have no voice.
Your students just received a special classroom library with leveled books for readers of varying abilities.
How do you anticipate these books will impact your students?
This MJ PROJECT classroom library is going to help our students in so many ways. It is very difficult to find high interest books at the reading level that some of our students are at. Having these books will help us get students to read more and be able to complete some of their English assignments, as well as instill a love for reading.
What book inspired you to keep reading?
The one book that I remember reading as a young person that inspired me to keep reading is “Monster” by Walter Dean Myers. This book is an amazing story and helped me realize that books aren’t all “boring”.
What are you reading now?
Currently I am reading two different books. I am reading “3D Coach: Capturing the Heart Behind the Jersey” by Jeff Duke and “Field and Stream Outdoor Survival Guide: Survival Skills You Need” by T. Edward Nickens. The first I am reading because I love coaching youth sports and want to be the best coach I can be for my kids. The second I am reading because I enjoy the outdoors and one day would like to do a survival class and test my skills.
Do you have a favorite reading spot?
My favorite reading spot is on my couch in our “2nd living room”. We created this spot specifically for reading, and it is super comfortable.
The MJ PROJECT Blog is written by students, teachers, and MJ Project team members seeking to keep our supportive community in the know with regards to our most recent projects, grants, and programs.