“If you really want to be an effective teacher, if you really want to reach kids and help them excel, you have to build relationships,” says high school teacher Anthony Marshall. “It’s the most important part of teaching.”
Anthony Marshall’s first dream as a child was to be a teacher, but it was only after life-changing personal challenges that Anthony decided it was time to pursue his dream. After spending more than 20 years as an attorney in Washington, DC, he returned to his hometown of Tulsa, OK, and became a history teacher at Booker T. Washington High School. As Anthony describes the change, “Never in more than 20 years as an attorney has my life been as gratifying as the years I’ve been teaching.”
Anthony started his education career teaching grade-level U.S. history. And then something interesting happened: His students were outperforming Advanced Placement U.S. History students on the school’s end-of-year exam. Not surprisingly, Anthony’s administration asked him to take over the AP course.
That’s when Anthony noticed something that both bothered and intrigued him: Very few students of color were taking AP U.S. History. He decided to find out why and do something about it.
“I talked to many students and they told me they just didn’t feel like AP was something they could master,” Anthony explains. “I then looked at how we structured AP history and it was about teaching students to memorize, as opposed to helping them build analytical and critical thinking skills. I researched how we could change the approach of the course and created a recruitment plan for students of color.”
He started with the students in Men of Power, the organization he launched as an advisor in 2007. According to Anthony, Men of Power is “about doing positive things and making a difference in class, school, and the community. It started out as an organization focused on changing the negative stereotypes of African-American males and has grown into a mentoring and tutoring organization for peer elementary and middle school students. Our members do tons and tons of volunteer hours.”
Anthony summarizes the philosophy of the organization as, “You can be whatever you want to be; you don’t have to accept mediocrity. Students need to feel they can accomplish anything they want. Too many young men of color believe they can’t.”
Putting the Men of Power mantra to work, Anthony challenged the higher achieving club members to take his AP class. “Many of them accepted the challenge because of the relationship I built with them. Once they got in and bought in, they helped recruit other students,” says Anthony. “The relationship matters because they know when I encourage them to put in extra time and work for the course it’s not just about doing well in my class, but it’s because I care about them and their future.”
Anthony is also working to ensure that all of his students pass the AP exam, continuing to reduce the initial difference in passage rates between white students and students of color. He grounds his lessons in current events and differentiates instruction based on the way each student learns best. For example, in a recent lesson on how the War of 1812 changed America’s attitude toward nationalism, Anthony’s students were are able to learn and show their mastery of the material through PowerPoint presentations, reading and writing, discussing ideas in groups, and teaching each other.
Anthony also offers his students plenty of extra time for learning after school and in the mornings. And he pays particular attention to what students might be dealing with outside of his class. Anthony shares an example of one boy who was struggling in his AP course and other classes, mostly because he wasn’t completing his homework. “The student told me, ‘My brother is a gang banger and my mom makes us turn out the lights at night because of drive-by shootings.’ I let the boy use my class every day to do homework and other teachers were willing to make concessions also,” as Anthony tells the story. “When you get to know the students, you can provide them with support mechanisms. Many students don’t have the foundations they need. We have to be as supportive as possible.”
Anthony continues, “They don’t teach that in education courses. I catch a lot of kids who feel like they can’t do it.”
And it works. Many of Anthony’s Men of Power graduates come back to meetings to share their experiences from college with his current students and some even started Men of Power organizations at their universities. Anthony counts engineers, accountants, authors, and campaign directors as his former students. “It’s one transformative story after another,” concludes Anthony.