With fifteen years of classroom experience under his belt, former English teacher Brad Jupp now finds himself in Secretary Duncan’s office as a senior program advisor on teacher initiatives. In that role, Jupp uses his on-the-job knowledge of the profession to help keep Secretary Duncan and the rest of ED better informed of the “classroom and schoolhouse perspective.”
“I think about teaching and learning problems every day,” Jupp says of his work at ED. “I also think about the way teachers understand policy. And then finally, and most importantly, I think about what students need to do to succeed in school every day.”
Jupp’s “dream job” remains the work he did as an English teacher at an alternative middle school for at-risk 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students. Asked to recall the story of a single student, he told about John Chacon, who had been expelled from school twice before sixth grade and was sent to Jupp’s school in lieu of a third expulsion. Over the course of three years, Jupp and his colleagues collaborated with the boy’s family, school officials, and community health organizations to support Chacon and prepare him for high school. It wasn’t easy. Chacon was academically behind because of his frequent suspensions, and in his eighth grade year, after two years of escalating mental health attention, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Nevertheless, Chacon completed the eighth grade, and improved in both reading and math on state tests. In 2004, Jupp had a chance meeting with his former student at a pet store, where the young man was now working the cash register.
“He told me that he’d graduated from high school and that, had we not stuck with him during middle school, he never would’ve graduated,” Jupp said. “I think about that case all the time when I’m at work. It’s a case of all of the things that we as teachers work to make come together in the single life of a student.”
Jupp entered teaching after reading Jonathan Kozol’s Death at an Early Age. ”I wanted students to be able to experience difficult and beautiful literature, even though they might be struggling readers when they were 11 or 12 years old.” He found success by encouraging his students to understand their reading assignments as part of a broader and more rewarding process of problem-solving, not as boring and repetitious practice. For example, in his first year of teaching, Jupp assigned Ezra Pound’s version of the Old English poem The Seafarer to his sixth-grade students.
“You don’t have to pander to kids by choosing superficially relevant literature,” he said. “You actually can get the kids to bring their own lives and relationships forward as they discuss a tough poem, in the terms that it gives you. The Seafarer is about being lonely and outlawed from your community, and it’s a terrific poem that sixth-graders can understand.”
Now at ED, Jupp advises the Department’s leadership on how teachers approach policy matters. “Every day I’m here, I ask, ‘what would a teacher think when he heard this come out of our mouth?’” Jupp said. “Or, ‘what would a teacher do when he saw the signal we sent?’”
Jupp’s presence of mind and commitment to effective problem solving have made him a crucial player in ED’s efforts to reform education in real time. However, his best asset may be his unwavering commitment the true goals of public education. “Ultimately we’re not just in this because of teaching and learning problems or because we need to shape the world of teachers and principals and other educators that work in the schools,” he said. “It’s really, we’re here to get kids to grow academically and as people, then complete school and succeed in life.”
Ed. Note: This post is the first in a series of blog posts that will highlight teachers at the Department of Education who offer invaluable expertise and continue their commitment to education, the teaching profession and students.