The DC Leading Men Fellows serve as literacy tutors in Pre-K classrooms, leading the children they serve to be ready for Kindergarten. The Fellows follow a structured curriculum and use data to help their children be successful readers and work closely with a classroom lead teacher and paraprofessional to provide daily literacy interventions to the children in their class.
All DC Leading Men Fellows are recent District of Columbia Public Schools graduates, and serve in DC Public School Pre-K classrooms. Torren Cooper, 2016-17 DC Leading Men Fellow and Pre-K tutor at Turner Elementary School, shares the impact he is having in his school, and what the fellowship is teaching him about education, the community, and his professional goals.
1. How did you learn about The Leading Men Fellows program? What motivated you to apply?
I saw the announcement for The Leading Men Fellows program in an email I received from DCPS. I’ve always wanted to get involved with the Empowering Males of Color initiative, and I thought this was the perfect opportunity to do so. Last year, I was a reading partner at an elementary school in my neighborhood and I bonded with my student partner. Inspired by his growth over a short period of time, I longed for an opportunity to get more involved in helping students develop early literacy skills.
2. How have your expectations of the Leading Men Fellowship been met or challenged?
I expected to be more of a teacher’s assistant and just support students one on one and in small groups, but boy was I wrong! I have my own material to introduce, assessments to administer, and clever transition songs to sing. All of the planning and the level which I am actively engaged in the all-around success of the students almost makes me feel like a teacher of my own little classroom, within the classroom. It’s challenging trying to balance everything and do it with integrity every time. I mean I am shaping the mind of America’s future leaders, right? But no pressure.
3. As a tutor in a Pre-K classroom, what are the most important parts of your role?
The most important parts of my role as a Leading Men Fellow in the classroom are to educate and to inspire. While fulfilling my duties of introducing literacy skills to students, I believe it is important to make learning fun and motivate kids to be the best student they can be, academically and socially. As a Leading Men Fellow, native Washingtonian, and DC Public Schools graduate, it is important that I share with them that they too possess the power and ability to live their dreams.
4. In what ways has your Leading Men position contributed to your perspective about education, specifically in Washington, DC?
Though I was well aware of the benefits of having a quality education, being a Leading Men Fellow has allowed me to clearly see the impact of education on certain communities in Washington, DC. Socioeconomic lines have been clearly drawn all across the city. The more “affluent” and most desired living spaces in Washington, D.C. are reserved for degree holders and those with the financial means to live there. Knowing this, it is my duty to prepare students with the foundational skills that are needed to live a prosperous and fulfilling life. Education is a key to success and “the way out” for many of our students.
5. What has been your favorite moment thus far?
My favorite moments thus far have been those subtle moments where I’m reminded of why I do what I do. I love when my students randomly ask me “Can we sing the letters have names song?” or overhear them singing a transition song like “Blue, shoe, these two rhyme” during lunch. I want to be an educator to inspire children to develop a love for learning and to see the beginning of that dream unfolding before my eyes is priceless.
6. What goals do you have for the remainder of the year?
It is my goal as a tutor to make sure that every student can read and write their name fluently by the end of the year. My career goals are to pass the ParaPro Assessment and build a strong network of male educators, principals, and school administrators of color. After the Leading Men Fellowship program, I plan to continue working in education while completing my Master’s degree. I would love to continue working at Turner Elementary School to keep up the momentum that I’m already building. I also plan to complete and obtain all of the certifications and pre-requisites I need to become a highly-qualified teacher in the future.