Teaching was last thing on the mind of Albert T. Lewis when he left Capital Heights for Morgan State University. The communications major had ambitions to be a broadcast journalist, but even after writing for the school’s newspaper and completing several prominent sports journalism internships at FOX 45 and the Associated Press, he found his audience in eager-to-learn 11-14 year-olds instead of Ravens and Redskins fans.
“I had an innate sense of caring for children,” said Lewis. “At church, I always wanted to hold people’s kids and I worked at a church’s summer camp.”
Lewis, 30, said despite his natural love for children, he was discouraged as a teen from pursuing a career in the field by his mother Rita Lewis, and aunt Helen Ferguson, who worked in education. He said they told him the job was low-paying and full of challenges, such as disruptive students with behavioral issues.
Lewis turned his attention to journalism and was adamant about pursuing it, until he had life altering experience at a young adult church retreat in August 2005.
“I heard the voice of God… I heard stories of people hearing God, but I never had,” said Lewis.
He said God told him his path in life was to be an educator and he listened. A few months before he completed his degree at Morgan, Lewis’s aunt helped him get a job working as a substitute teacher in the seventh and eighth grade at Drew Freeman Middle School in the Suitland-Silver Hill area.
But Lewis’ first experience working in the school system was no walk in the park. He called his first day working as a substitute teacher “baptism by hell fire.”
“The climate of the students made it a challenging experience,” said Lewis. “But I was surrounded by great co-workers with tremendous experience who helped me make a sound transition from college to the world of education.”
Lewis completed his degree at Morgan in December 2006 and graduated in May 2007. After working as a substitute for a year and a half, Lewis was given his first teaching contract as a provisional teacher in August 2007 teaching language arts to seventh graders at Walker Mill Middle School. Provisional teachers are novice teachers who are supported and supervised by experienced teachers, while working to complete their teaching certification.
While Lewis had a background in communications and experience as a substitute teacher, he said he soon realized his lack of formal teaching experience made it difficult to efficiently create a cohesive, comprehensive classroom.
“It was a learning experience,” said Lewis. “I went in with only classroom management experience.”
He said the other teachers helped to mentor him during his first year teaching. He said they praised his accomplishments, but critiqued him just as easily and his first year he was awarded the school’s rookie of the year award.
While receiving professional critiques from his peers, Lewis worked on passing the Praxis, a series of tests to measure teacher candidate’s skills and knowledge. Because Lewis had no formal training in education, passing the Praxis was a difficult journey and he had to retake several portions of the test until he received a high enough score to meet the requirements as a highly qualified teacher.
“I didn’t go to school to be a teacher, I went to be a journalist,” said Lewis. “I didn’t understand all the complexities to become a good teacher.”
Since beginning his journey as an educator, Lewis has been rewarded for his hard work and dedication. He was awarded the 2013 Teacher of the Year award and is currently a finalist for Steve Harvey’s Neighborhood Awards for Best Teacher of the Year.
While he waits for the Aug. 10 announcement for the winners of Neighborhood Awards, he said he is using his influence as Teacher of the Year to push a platform of a commitment of enhancement to what he called an already thriving school system.
He said he is working to help to retain and recruit youthful, energetic African American male teachers in the classroom and promote literacy.
“STEM is important, but when literacy isn’t a priority, students are going to struggle not only in the classroom, but in life.”