I Choose to Stay: A Black Teacher Refuses to Desert the Inner City

Overview

Embodying the best qualities of education pioneers Joe Clark and Jaime Escalante, Salome Thomas-EL is a black man dedicated to changing the lives-and dreams-of inner city kids. Born in 1964, one of eight children, Salome grew up in the Philadelphia projects. But identified early as "gifted," he had doors opened to him that are closed to most. In a media-related job, talking with superstars such as Julius Erving and Maurice Cheeks, he was on the fast track to success. But he ...

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Overview

Embodying the best qualities of education pioneers Joe Clark and Jaime Escalante, Salome Thomas-EL is a black man dedicated to changing the lives-and dreams-of inner city kids. Born in 1964, one of eight children, Salome grew up in the Philadelphia projects. But identified early as "gifted," he had doors opened to him that are closed to most. In a media-related job, talking with superstars such as Julius Erving and Maurice Cheeks, he was on the fast track to success. But he couldn't forget his roots, or the children of the inner city.

In the late 1980s, he went back into disadvantaged neighborhoods and into the classroom. As teacher, mentor, and in most cases, the only positive male role model in these children's lives, Salome Thomas-EL would do something extraordinary: he would lead the girls and boys of his school to victory as they competed in three major championships. Chess championships.

Reviving the chess club, the Mighty Bishops, Salome taught his pupils to resolve conflict with their minds instead of their fists. They went into regional competitions, to the nationals in Tennessee, and to the U.S. Open in Orlando. Not knowing they were expected to lose, they won. In the years between 1996 and 2000, Mr. Thomas-EL helped scores of other schools begin similar programs. But in the same years, twenty of his students were murdered.

Clearly, chess wasn't enough. Now in this compelling memoir, Salome Thomas-EL tells of what else needed to be done, from implementing the 100-book challenge program, to Saturday tutoring and in-school breakfasts. As his efforts began to have a citywide impact, the offers began pouring in for promotions, for advancement, for his going elsewhere.

He chose to stay, and the results are an inspiration to us all.

More than just one man's story, I Choose To Stay shows concerned Americans everywhere how to make a difference in their schools and communities. Acknowledging problems, banding together to solve them, and seeing the value of mentoring relationships are all lessons to be learned from the life of this extraordinary man, whose struggle and triumph are a model of how to engage students and their creativity...and of how to live.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Teaching is a calling, and Thomas-EL has enthusiastically answered the call. In his memoir, the educator, currently the principal of a Philadelphia elementary school, recounts the events that led him to a career in education. The author writes of experiences that would daunt many. Thomas-EL, the seventh of eight children, displayed intellectual promise early and was transferred to one of Philly's prominent magnet schools. He recounts how insecurity plagued him as he went from being at the top of his class in his old school to joining students who showed just as much intellectual prowess as he did. On top of dealing with a lack of self-confidence at this new school, Thomas-EL also felt the sting of racism for the first time. In energetic prose, he remembers the inspiration he found in teachers who connected him with internship opportunities and consistently encouraged him. Now in that very role today, Thomas-EL has instituted some innovative programming at his school, garnering such attention from administrators that he's received numerous offers for leadership positions in his own and other districts. Although the accompanying salaries have been attractive, Thomas-EL declares, "I choose to stay." Agent, Deidre Knight. (Mar.) Forecast: Educators who enjoyed Judge Greg Mathis's Inner City Miracle (Ballantine, 2002) and Samson Davis, George Jenkins and Rameck Hunt's The Pact (Riverhead, 2002) will be drawn to this warm account of helping economically disadvantaged kids. Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Early in his teaching career, Thomas-El turned down an opportunity many teachers would not have refused. Although offered a promotion to assistant principal at another school in the district, he chose not to move from Robert Vaux Middle School, the Philadelphia low income school where he was teaching. He says he made this choice because he believed the programs that he was building at Vaux had a positive influence on the children involved. This book serves as a reflective case study in support of conclusions drawn by other educators (e.g., Rhona S. Weinstein's Reaching Higher: The Power of Expectations in Schooling) about the effects of a supportive teacher. Inspired by his belief that children cannot fail if their teachers consistently demonstrate the expectation that they will succeed, Thomas-El resurrected the school's chess team to its former glory. Trained as a mathematics teacher, he taught chess strategies in relationship to algebraic concepts. He also required that chess team members maintain good grades in all their classes. Their tournament successes at the national level made the team members local heroes among their peers. Thomas-El tells his story, from childhood through school administrator, focusing on the mentoring needs of students and how this can be achieved programmatically by dedicated teachers. Although the book is written at a middle school reading level-this, in fact, is its key flaw-its underlying message is so compelling that it is still recommended as inspirational reading for both veteran and aspiring teachers, as well as the general interest audience.-Jean Caspers, Northup Lib., Linfield Coll., McMinnville, OR Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Now principal of a Philadelphia school, Thomas-EL recounts his experiences teaching and organizing a chess program that turned potential dropouts into winners. A product of Philadelphia’s inner city, raised by a mother who worked as often as she could but frequently was on welfare, the bright and hardworking boy was encouraged to excel by both Mom and his teachers, who helped him gain admittance to a magnet school and then a small, largely white college. Exposed to racism from students and professors, Thomas-EL was tempted to quit, but he persevered, graduated, and decided to pursue a career in television or the law. He had no intention of teaching, even though one of his professors had told him that he could help his community more as a teacher than as a lawyer. He began working as an intern for a sports channel, but was increasingly drawn to teaching; since most of his TV work was at night, he began substituting in schools. Loving the work and the kids, he decided to earn certification and a master’s degree so he could get a permanent position in the Philadelphia public school system. He describes how he did this, paying tribute to the mentors who encouraged him. Meanwhile, his students had to overcome numerous problems to stay in school; many had parents on drugs and didn’t get enough to eat in homes plagued by violence. Thomas-EL’s first success was an alternative learning program called Second Chance designed for disruptive students; it became so popular that students deliberately misbehaved so they could attend. Determined that the kids needed to expand their minds—"strive for an MBA, instead of the NBA"—he began a successful chess program; students won nationalcompetitions, as well as the respect and admiration of their peers. An eloquent example of how commitment and innovation can better the lives of inner-city children. Agent: Deidre Knight
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780758201874
  • Publisher: Kensington Publishing Corporation
  • Publication date: 1/1/2004
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.02 (w) x 8.96 (h) x 1.00 (d)

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2006

    Strong Black Man

    This is a very interesting book. This book tells about a black mans struggle to find himself and who he really is. On his way, he finds out more than he ever imagined. Salomes biography is a wonderful story. I highly recommend it for serious readers.

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