WEB EXCLUSIVE: Impassioned teacher spreads his message

Theresa Montgomery

Jason Kamras takes to heart the belief that when it comes to education, no student in America should be left behind.

As the 55th National Teacher of the Year, and the first from the District of Columbia, he is taking that message to the streets.

“One of the greatest ironies of being teacher of the year is that you don’t get to teach for a year,” Kamras told a group of educators and students yesterday in the Kiva.

As a math teacher at John Philip Sousa Middle School in urban Washington, Kamras wants to make things better for his students.

“In this capital, arguably of the most powerful nations in all of history, 90 percent of my students live below the poverty line,” Kamras said.

He said American students who live in poverty lack access to the greatest equalizer that the United States has to offer: a good education.

“As a teacher and as an American, it is difficult for me to say this, but it is my obligation to do so,” Kamras said.

Thirteen million American children live in poverty. One in seven students in Kent City Schools also lives in poverty, Kamras said.

Kamras had members of the audience whose birthdates fall between the first and 15th days of the month stand up.

Half the people in the room stood.

“If you come from a household with an annual income of $90,000 or more, your chance of going to college is one in two,” Kamras said.

Next he asked that all members whose birthdays fall on the first or second days of each month stand.

“For households of $35,000 or less, your chance of going to college is one in 17.”

This achievement gap outrages him, Kamras said, “and it should outrage you.”

Kamras does not slough responsibility onto the shoulders of politicians, administrators or society.

He said he believes it is an individual responsibility to ensure educational opportunity for all children.

“We must look them all in the eye and say, ‘The limits of your opportunity are only the limits of your imagination, and not your ZIP code,'” Kamras said in closing. “Never underestimate your power to extend opportunity and eliminate injustice.”

George Haber, assistant professor of Career and Teacher Education, came with several of his students. He said Kamras’ sentiments resonate with topics Haber addresses in his class.

“It’s nice to see some of the things we’ve talked about reinforced here,” Haber said.

Kenn Stopeck, a teacher at Mentor High School, said he enjoyed the speech Kamras gave and it hits close to home.

“I love the fact that he placed a lot of emphasis on the personal responsibility of the teacher,” Stopeck said. “It makes sense that there’s highs and lows. You have to take it one classroom at a time, and also one student at a time.”

Contact College and Graduate School of Education, Health and Human Services reporter Theresa Montgomery at [email protected].