Student Profile The Education of Raymond Cummings Jr | Teachers College Columbia University

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Student Profile The Education of Raymond Cummings Jr

A TC doctoral student set out to teach one classroom, but now he's aiming for many.
Raymond Cummings Jr. first waded into teaching a few years ago in a language arts classroom at a Miami middle school.
The young teacher immediately realized he had found his calling, but with no formal training other than a bachelor’s degree in English from Harvard, he knew he was in over his head. Or as Cummings put it, “I loved my kids too much not to learn how to teach them better.”
So Cummings enrolled in a master’s degree program in English education at the University of Florida, and that’s when destiny called again. Instead of returning to teaching, as he had originally planned, he decided he would pursue a doctoral degree, “so that I could have an impact on the field of education and reach not just one classroom, but many.”
In February, Cummings took a major step toward that goal. After four years as a doctoral student in TC’s Department of Curriculum and Teaching, he was awarded a doctoral dissertation grant from the University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Educational Initiatives to examine how an inner-city Catholic school has developed high-achieving black students.
It’s a topic with special significance for Cummings. An African American, who hails from a working-class background, he is interested in finding ways to improve education outcomes for African American students.
“I didn’t really know anything about Catholicism,” Cummings says, “but I was led there by the literature.”
Though he’s just beginning to collect data, Cummings said the research seems to show that Catholic schools succeed with African American students because they have highly ordered educational environments, set high standards and expectations for all students, and implement strict disciplinary policies. In his work, Cummings hopes to add to that body of knowledge by understanding the way various stakeholders at an urban Catholic school conceptualize and promote success for black students.
The grant will provide Cummings with a one-year stipend and travel expenses to the University of Notre Dame, where he will present his findings at an annual conference. Cummings says he was prompted to apply for the grant by TC Associate Professor Michelle Knight-Diop, for whom he has worked as a research and teaching assistant for the past few years.
As to his future, he’s got it planned. After he earns his Ed.D. in May, Cummings plans to take a faculty position at a school of education. But the academic life might not be his last stop. His ultimate goal? “Opening a Christian school,” he says, “in a black or Latino inner-city neighborhood.”

Published Thursday, Oct. 29, 2009