John Young knows what it is like to be in the classroom. He has played the role
of both teacher and pupil, and is currently starring as an Ed.D candidate in the Gifted Education program. But John's quest for his doctorate goes beyond the glitz and lights of The Great White Way to the pith of what makes students tick. "I love looking at achievement issues," he says, and plans to do so to better understand the factors that contribute to the academic successes of minority pupils.
This Long Island native knows more than a little about lights, camera, and action. He began pursuing his undergraduate studies in a dual program at Oberlin, enrolling in its Conservatory of Music for a degree in piano performance and in its College of Arts and Sciences for a degree in mathematics. Trading the stage for the classroom, he later decided to switch gears, combining coursework in English and African-American Studies with math in replacement of his performance program. His goal was to become a teacher. Because Oberlin does not offer a certification program for education, John relocated to Atlanta upon graduation to attain this credential as well as his Masters from Emory University. As he neared the conclusion of his studies, he received a phone call from the Director of Gifted Education at the Howard University School of Education. The school had just received a grant from the Department of Defense to identify and support children who were academically gifted. John was asked to join the project team of this initiative and invited to begin his doctoral studies at the same time. Rather than the Ed.D., John decided to pursue an advanced degree from Howard, and then went to teach in the District of Columbia's public school system, an experience that he describes as "interesting, exciting, and challenging."
Indeed, for this was John's first classroom experience, the culmination of what his educational training thus far had been preparing him. He taught general math, algebra I, and algebra II for 8 years, followed by a 2-year stint in a middle school's computer laboratory. This was in the early 1990s-the period during which the world was becoming increasingly aware of the phenomenon known as the Worldwide Web-so kids were excited to learn about technology and it was easy to keep them engaged. John also trained the school's teachers about computer usage and worked on in-house publishing projects. Because many of the boys whom he taught did not have positive male role models in the lives, John was called upon by the school administration to be a mentor to these children. John found himself at school at least an hour before classes began and then again 2-3 hours after they had concluded as he worked to coordinate programs to motivate this young group. While it can be difficult to reach every child, John says that "reaching one [was] doing a great a service to not only the school, but to the community at large."
In all that he did, he tried to make learning an enjoyable experience for the students. John's efforts were recognized on several occasions, twice garnering him a finalist spot for the National Teacher of the Year Award as well as nominations for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching. In addition, John's accomplishments earned him a myriad of other accolades, including the title of Outstanding Young Man of the Year. After 2 years, the middle school in which John oversaw the computer lab was closed do to budgetary constraints. Teachers and students were forced to go to what had been their archrival school, and the district's failure to pave the way for this amalgamation of populations made for a rocky transition for all. John taught 9th grade math for 1 year here, and then trekked cross-country to West Lafayette, Indiana to teach Introduction to Secondary Education at Purdue University. After a year at the institution, his mother's failing health prompted him to move back to Long Island so that he could assist her during her recuperation period. He tutored part-time, and set his sights on his long-term goal: attending Teachers College.
In fact, this was a dream deferred that John had held onto for 10 years. The school's impressive reputation, rich history, and long-term presence of African-Americans among its student body for more than 100 years were all factors influencing his decision. "I love my area," he says of his enrollment in the Gifted Education program. John has been at TC for 4 years now, and has "developed a research epistemology" as well as gained knowledge concerning the history of education. He says that his "passion and love is studying academically gifted and talented, economically disadvantaged African-American and Latino males." He is interested in exploring why some excel in school and successfully negotiate the system to their advantage where others fail to do the same. He plans this to be the basis of his dissertation, "a qualitative ethnography" that brings into prominence the narratives of these youth who beat what many might consider unsurpassable odds. Currently, John is working to complete his coursework at TC, and is being supported to do so with partial funding from a TC Minority Scholarship as well as the Glickstein Award through the Department of Curriculum and Teaching, a scholarship intended for students in the Gifted program who are academically accomplished and who will contribute to the field. He plans to graduate in 2006.
Community service remains high on John's list of priorities. He serves as a judge for the music instrumental category for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's (NAACP) Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO), a competition for African-American students enrolled in grades 9 through 12. And, proving that a mentor's job is never done, he participates in I-Mentors, a program that identifies professionals in the New York metro area to work with youth. He also serves as a big brother for a student at Columbia. Happily, he has seen the fruits of such labor: one of his former recruits to Oberlin in his work with its alumni association is now a New York physician, and he surprisingly bumped into another just a few weeks ago right in the halls of TC. This experience he describes as both "really nice" and "very heartwarming."
John remains visible in the classroom as a teacher, working as an adjunct instructor at the Hunter College High School. Moreover, he has worked with TC's Writing Skills Center for about 9 months where he tutors fellow students who are writing literature reviews, chapters of dissertations, and articles for publication. In the future, he would like to teach on the university level and continue probing his burning questions surrounding minority achievement and the influence thereon by community and family. Surely, his experiences as a secondary school teacher, college instructor, and graduate student engaged in research will stand John in good stead as he channels his energies towards accomplishing this goal, just as he has his others.
Published Monday, Oct. 6, 2003