Professional Biography of Rothell Lewis, Jr.
What were the factors that influenced you to become a teacher? Describe what you consider to be your greatest contributions to or accomplishments in education.
It was never my childhood dream to be a teacher. I never had aspirations of entering this field. I never even played make believe games involving school like some kids did. Despite, I realize now that this is God's calling for my life. I see two profound reasons why I am a teacher. The first reason is the early teachings my mom provided. She instilled in me, at an early age, a sense of community. She taught my brother and I the meaning of reciprocity, giving back. This was part of the 5 R's (respect, responsibility, redemption, religion, and reciprocity) she drilled into us. My earliest memories are filled with her doing something, giving something to those who were less fortunate then us. This rubbed off on me as a young boy. At 12, I got a summer job as a camp counselor for an educational enrichment summer program, serving 4th and 5th grade students from the Irish Channel neighborhood of New Orleans; a job that I would keep well into my 30s. It felt good to help those kids, even though I was a kid myself, and right there I knew that I wanted a job helping people for a living. I decided I wanted to become a medical doctor. I thought then that there was no better way to give back to my community; obviously my steps were not ordered in that direction. I view teaching as my community fulfillment. I am living out and being the person my mom dreamt I would be, every time I step into the classroom.
The second and perhaps most profound reason I became a teacher has to do with where I grew up. I am from Uptown New Orleans near the Magnolia Housing Development. This is an area plagued with generational poverty. An area plagued with the consequences of bad choices. An area plagued with a "downtroddenness" that seems to keep some folks living there in a sort of holding pattern that never ends. My mom enjoys retired life living in the family home in the old neighborhood, and during my annual two week pilgrimage back there this summer, I reconnected with a childhood friend that was also one of the lucky ones. We fondly reminisced about some of our childhood antics and the childhood friends who did not make it out of the old neighborhood alive. What became frightening and very alarming was that we were running out of fingers on which to count. This leads me to my ultimate contribution to education and my students. I stand before them every day as an example of what is POSSIBLE. I teach because I am an example. I am an example of the power that caring adults, a very persistent mother, and a forgiving God had over a very impressionable boy. I want to teach students that they don't have to be a victim of their circumstances, and that they can rise above it and re-write their destiny. What becomes apparent during every trip back to the old neighborhood is that I could have easily made the wrong choice, and without those aforementioned entities, someone could just as easily be fondly reminiscing about me.
Include information regarding educational preparation, professional association memberships, offices held. Training undertaken and other relevant activities. Cite any awards and other recognitions of your outstanding teaching.
My training started at the University of New Orleans. I earned a bachelor's degree in psychology and the pursued and received my master's degree in Special Education shortly after. Some years later, I received my specialist degree in Education Leadership. I will soon complete my doctoral studies in a year or so. Being well prepared and trained is what we as educators owe our students. They deserve the best teachers in their classroom because we are expecting the best from them. I have had training in behavioral management and de-escalation techniques of aggressive behaviors, and I train teachers in the county at least 2 times a year.
During my third year of teaching, I was voted Teacher of the Year for my school, Joseph A. Hardin Elementary, a humbling experience. I share the successes in my classroom with anyone who would listen, and I especially try to talk with, learn from, and be the voice of calm for new teachers because I was new once, and remember what a frightening experience it was standing in front of new students.
A. Describe your personal feeling and beliefs about teaching, including your own ideas of what makes you an outstanding teacher. Describe the rewards you find in teaching.
B. How are your beliefs about teaching demonstrated in your personal teaching style?
My personal teaching philosophy is straight forward and plain; EVERY student can learn no matter their family history, economic status, level of parental involvement, or lack of success in school. I believe that in my heart and soul, and the day I stop believing that, is the day I will retire. During my undergrad years, I learned about Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs theory. His theory proposes that there are basic levels of needs that has to be met before the person can reach their full potential, a theory that would stick with me many years later. I have always been given the "tough" cases. The children full of despair and hopelessness, and had not had a lot of success in school. Reflecting back on what I had learned about Maslow's theory, I found the key to these students was to identify their needs and try my best to meet them. This required out of the box thinking, something that I am great at. After putting into practice the tenets of his theory, my own personal teaching philosophy grew. If a child is hungry, doesn't get attention, doesn't feel love or doesn't feel safe, then he or she will not learn. That meant sometimes I had to give a student something to eat, or eat lunch with students so we can talk about what was on their minds when peace and quiet is what I needed most, or shoot hoops on knees long passed their heyday for 15 minutes or so a week because a student needed that one on one time. I admit that this is a difficult task given the time constraints we as educators are under, but it I was serious about every students learning; if I was serious about being there for them, then I had to find time where there was none, or make a way out of no way. I knew that I could foster learning through these relationships. Relationship building is a message I preach every time I get a chance, a message that sometimes falls on deaf ears; but a message I preach nonetheless.
In closing this question takes a more personal turn for me. As far back as I can remember, I have had difficulty with reading, something that I still struggle with 21 hours out from earning my doctoral degree. Reading was a laborious task and not enjoyable for me; and is probably the main reason to this day I have not read a novel in its entirety. As a child, I was embarrassed to say anything and found coping strategies that helped me not to stand out. I can certainly relate to that child that has reading difficulties, and know first-hand what that does to self-esteem. I see myself in those students. I feel that because I was once sitting where they are, and once felt the frustration they are feeling, that it is my purpose, my calling, and my mission is to help them because I believe that with the love and understanding, I can put them well on the road to literacy.
Describe your commitment to your community through service oriented activities including volunteer work, civic and other group activity
My mother did a great job, at least I think, instilling in me the importance of community. So it's not surprising that my first job, at 12, would be just that, servicing my community. In the summer of 1982, I started tutoring 4th and 5th grade students as part of the Trinity Episcopal Church's outreach ministry. I tutored students in math, science, and English language arts. I loved that job so much I stayed for 25 years. Eventually, I was in the position to become camp director until I relocated to Georgia because of Hurricane Katrina. Since being in Georgia, in a new environment and surroundings, I had a paradigm shift as it relates to community service. I realized that I didn't have to serve my community as part of an organization, and that just getting out there and doing something to affect a change is in fact serving the community. As a result of this shift, I thought that being of a service to my students outside of school would be a great way to give back to the community I serve. I have gone to many football games, soccer games, and basketball and karate practices. I have also gone to my students houses and helped with discipline, homework or whatever my students needed from me. This is important in relationship building which translates positively in the classroom. Community involvement is an important aspect of teaching. We are ambassadors of the school and being visual in some way in the community, goes a long way to improving the parent/school relationship.
From the projects of New Orleans to halls of Live Oak Elementary, Rothell Lewis, Jr. has always given back, and now Newton County can give back by honoring him as their 2012 Teacher of the Year.
The special education teacher has been an educator for the last 15 years. But he didn't grow up with aspirations of teaching; he grew up learning from his mother, the importance of giving back. At 12 he started tutoring kids from the Irish Channel neighborhood of New Orleans and has never stopping helping others learn.
"I teach because I am an example. I am an example of the power that caring adults, a very persistent mother, and a forgiving God had over a very impressionable boy. I want to teach students that they don't have to be a victim of their circumstances, and that they can rise above it and re-write their destiny," said Lewis in his biography that was submitted to judges.
When Chamber of Commerce President Hunter Hall began reading parts of Lewis' biography prior to announcing his as Teacher of the Year, tears began to roll down Lewis' face, along with the faces of several board members. When his name was read the crowd burst into applause, with fellow Live Oak employees jumping up and waving pom-poms.
"I'm in awe every time I go to school and see the awesome teachers," Lewis said. "You won't convince me I deserve this more than them."