May 3, 2011

High School Student Reflects On Lessons Of A Great Teacher

Sarai Reed is a senior at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C. She was recently awarded the Stephen Joel Tractenberg scholarship to attend George Washington University in the fall.
I've never been a fan of journalism, but unfortunately I signed up for four years of it when I landed in the Literary Media and Communications Department at my school -- Duke Ellington School of the Arts. I made it through the first two years as a staff writer on our school paper by the grace of God, considering I'm highly indisposed to strict deadlines. By the beginning of my junior year, however, things changed when we got a new journalism teacher. From my impressionable, 16-year-old standpoint, Mr. Oyedeji -- fresh off the boat from the U.K. and dressed in American Apparel and Chuck Taylors -- was a revolutionary. He, of course, referred to himself modestly as just another "softly spoken brother."
In his first week with us, Mr. Oyedeji (affectionately called "Mr. O") entreated the class to participate in a small group activity. He divided the class into four groups and gave mine the task of going into the hallway to discuss a topic he assigned us. We had 10 minutes to create a lesson plan and come back and effectively teach the class about the assigned topic.
We scampered eagerly out of the classroom to perform the task, but when we returned, we were met with some difficulty. About a third of our audience was disengaged and silent; another third was distracted and chatty; and the remaining third had so many questions and thoughts to share it was pesky.
Mr. O hardly intervened as we struggled to hold the attention of the class. When our frustrated group was about to throw in the towel, Mr. O had each of the other groups reveal their assignments. Each one had been put up to the task of impeding our short lecture by being under engaged, overly talkative or heckling us with questions and comments. For those few moments, our class truly understood the frustrations and obstacles a teacher is subjected to and we’ve had close to perfect harmony in our classroom ever since.
We've since done away with our outdated school paper and upgraded to a glossy magazine that the entire department can be proud of. Mr. O is always telling us that if our writing is nothing else it ought to be clever, cool and meaningful. In a lot of ways, he exemplifies his own words of wisdom: he's clever, cool, and the two years I spent in his class will always mean a lot to me.

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