“Old school” is the term Stavon Brown’s colleagues used to describe her. She embraced it proudly.
Teaching math at Ashley Park, she would fold her arms across her chest, glaring over narrow glasses and warning her students she would take no nonsense.
“You need to go upstairs and sit in the fourth-grade hall,” she told her eighth-graders when they wouldn’t get down to business after Christmas break. Students who didn’t shape up would get sent to the office.
Brown, a 44-year-old who has taught for 13 years, made no apologies. “I teach the way I was taught,” she said. “It worked for me.”
Teaching is a second career for Brown, a business major who says she didn’t find work in corporate America meaningful. Every now and then, when fixing a student with an especially stern look, she’d break into a smile or a chuckle, revealing the joy she got from her adolescent charges.
She taught in New York, Greensboro and Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s Eastway Middle School before being recruited to join Project LIFT.
Brown, who got a recruitment bonus based on her results at Eastway and the need for math teachers, says she was intrigued by the opportunity to try something new and the project’s quest to help impoverished students succeed.
Doubts arise in February
But by February, she had doubts. Teachers were expected to spend so much time delving into their students’ personal lives and trying to solve their problems. There was so much emphasis on test scores, which are being used to evaluate teachers across North Carolina.
“My job is to teach them this math curriculum,” she said. “If they don’t pass the test, unfortunately it falls back on me. That’s the part of the job I don’t like.”
At a crucial point in their education, she didn’t see enough of her students buckling down.
“The kids have to buy into the fact that education is very important,” Brown said. “The neighborhoods they live in, maybe they don’t see success. They don’t see doctors and lawyers and high-profile positions.”
Brown mused about winning the lottery. She’d quit, she said, but she might return as a volunteer. Without the pressure, “this would be the best job on the planet.”
Brown’s own 10-year-old daughter was enrolled in a CMS magnet for gifted students. Brown would come home from Ashley Park exhausted, she said, only to find that her daughter needed help with a project.
“I have to save my child, too,” she said. “I can’t save these kids and not save my own.”
Before the year was out, Brown had made her choice. She had to focus on her own family, including her mother living in another state.
When Brown left Ashley Park for spring break, she didn’t return.