Bristol Francis is a Middle School English Language Arts Teacher at Success Academy
Harlem East. He graduated in 2015 from Penn with a degree in History.
My first time teaching was at the Chelsea Piers skating rink in New York City, where I helped kids strap on figure skates and wobble across the ice. My skating has never been flawless, but I have always felt an inherent drive to help and teach others, and I loved seeing my students’ excitement as they first learned to glide and then to spin and jump on the ice. Although I have not taught figure skating in years, as a Success Academy middle school English Language Arts teacher, I experience the same determination to help my students succeed that I felt at Chelsea Piers.
In high school, I was involved in an education program for students from underprivileged
communities , and one of our advisors noticed my good grades and work ethic and encouraged
me to apply to the University of Pennsylvania. Arriving at Penn, I threw myself into History,
Philosophy, and Political Science classes, and I was excited and intimidated by the heavy
workload and high expectations from professors. Having been a top student throughout high
school, I was frustrated to receive B’s on my first few History papers from an especially
challenging professor, Dr. Margo Todd. Rather than feeling discouraged, I found myself
inspired by Dr. Todd’s obvious passion and excitement for History. I attended her office hours and turned in papers early for extra feedback. On the next paper, I received an A, but more importantly, I learned the balanced dialogue between author and reader that makes academic
writing successful. As an educator, I teach my middle schoolers how to strike this balance. Mentors like Dr. Todd, who demonstrated passion for their curriculum and prioritized their students’ growth, inspire me to go the extra mile for my scholars. I had two scholars in my class this year who had never passed an ELA exam. I struggled to find ways to make the lessons accessible and to motivate them as they lost interest in the challenging content. Determined to help improve their comprehension, I met with them every morning from 7:45-8:45 AM before class for months. When the end of year exam came, they both scored 92% on the ELA exam. My scholars will not be in my class forever and middle school is just a few short years in the scope of life, but I am comfortable sending them forward into high school, and later college, knowing that they can read and analyze texts at a high level. These are skills that they worked incredibly hard for and that can never be taken away from them.
As hard as these last few months of remote learning have been for teachers, they have been even more challenging for scholars who have juggled school, family responsibilities, and a new level of independence over their education. I am so proud of my scholars and their ability to dig deep and remain focused through this incredibly challenging time. Most of the kids in my class are 12 or 13 years old, and I think their ability to wake up early, be on the class video call at 9:00 AM, and stay engaged in their schoolwork without a teacher physically present is a significant indicator that Success Academy is preparing our scholars for college readiness. I know we have three seniors who are starting at Penn next fall, and they are already a step ahead of where I was when I started college. The work ethic, time management capabilities, and organizational skills that helped them succeed at remote learning this spring will serve them well as they become Penn students in the fall. While we are physically restricted by the reality of this pandemic, the growth and new ways of problem solving that I see in myself as a teacher and in my scholars are a constant reminder that we are far from stuck.