Teacher's Perspective: Getting Students in Struggling, Violent Philadelphia School 'To Believe in Themselves'

Terri Campbell is an English teacher at Strawberry Mansion High School.

ByABC News
May 16, 2013, 9:55 AM

May 30, 2013— -- Terri Campbell is an English teacher at Strawberry Mansion High School, where security cameras line the hallways, students have to pass through metal detectors and fights break out regularly. As part of an ABC News profile on the daily lives of students and faculty at a struggling Philadelphia school this past year, Campbell offered a first-hand account of what it's like to teach there.

Admittedly, working at Strawberry Mansion High School in the School District of Philadelphia has been one of the most challenging experiences of my professional life.

There are many days when I leave Mansion (as we call it) questioning my choice to leave corporate America for the teaching profession. However, there are many more days when I leave Mansion that I am unable to envision a career in any profession other than teaching or, more specifically, teaching at Mansion.

The last two years of my 19-year teaching career have been spent at Mansion. Here, I have seen the success of my student walking down the graduation aisle towards a college career after giving birth to her third child. Here, I have felt the frustration of my academically gifted student not believing that he could go to college because "I don't have the money." Here, I have sensed the relief of my 6-foot-2, 200-pound male student after being pulled away from a peer demanding to fight him. All of these students are the reason why I choose to teach at Strawberry Mansion High School.

My job description as an English teacher is to "instruct students in such subjects as theater, literature, dramatics, journalism, business English, English usage, grammar, and composition." However, my tenure as a teacher has been defined by an additional job description -- making my students believe in themselves. Getting my students to believe in themselves, first and foremost, is my mission as an educator.

Many of my students at Mansion, faced with life's inequities, are unable to believe in and to visualize that any and all things are possible in life. My students often choose to let their environment and experiences define their being.

Making my students believe that pregnancy should not mean the end of your educational goals, that finances should not deter you from a college education and that you always have a choice to walk away from a fight have been some of my hardest lessons to teach at Strawberry Mansion High School. Imparting to my students that where you come from should not determine where you go and that you can go anywhere you see, dream or choose is another seemingly arduous task.

These hard-taught lessons and tasks are the very reason why I am rooted at Mansion. At the end of my teaching day, if I have succeeded at my job, I have increased the chances that my students will succeed at life.