Alum’s teaching proves potential of struggling students
by Alexander Browne
Growing up in the Chicago suburban neighborhood of Batavia, Kevin Martin ’09 had an educational experience far different from that of the struggling students he teaches today. It was at Illinois State that he became empowered to put teenagers on the path to success by creating positive classroom experiences.
A business education major, Martin decided to use his teaching talent as a part of Teach For America. His assignment following graduation was to teach summer school in the Atlanta Public Schools. His Georgia classroom consisted of students from low poverty communities and single-parent homes.
“Coming from a middle class community, I was truly unaware of the real issues facing our education system, specifically the achievement gap,” said Martin, who drew on his Illinois State training when challenged to prepare eighth-grade students to pass a state exam required for high school admission.
“These kids were years behind in math and reading, faced several obstacles at home, with some even having their own kids. But in the end they were determined to get an education and had a desire for teachers who cared,” Martin said. He saw their determination pay dividends, as his students’ scores shot up 150 percent in four weeks.
Martin’s next assignment was at Charles E. Sumner High School in St. Louis, Missouri, where he now teaches. Happy to be at the first African-American high school founded west of the Mississippi, Martin teaches algebra, career exploration, and computer applications.
The young people he works with have myriad issues to overcome, from trying to raise their own babies to gang violence that has taken their loved ones. They struggle with everything from overcoming criminal records to finding an income. The ubiquitous poverty and crime that permeates students’ lives is felt by the teachers as well.
“The school conditions at first were shocking to me,” Martin said. “We are provided little to no paper for copies, computer labs are extremely limited with outdated computers, few supplies are given to teachers, students struggle to buy supplies themselves, we use outdated books, and the school has a lack of technology.”
And yet Martin’s passion to teach and motivate is not diminished.
“These students are out there asking for their education, and each day I must and want to provide this,” Martin said. “It’s these kids that make me get up everyday and work all night. When you suspend judgment and give these kids a chance, they are capable, they will learn, and are thirsty for knowledge.”