Mr. Thaddeus Lott
A Long overdue Thank you
I planned on blogging about Explain Everything today, but I received news that one of the most influential people in my life, besides my father, passed.
When I met Mr. Lott, I was fresh out of college and itching for my own classroom. At that time in Massachusetts teaching positions were scarce so I attended a job consortium in Boston and because the Houston ISD table had a bowl of free apples, I gladly took one and felt obligated to apply for a position in Texas. Planning lunch has never been my forte. Talk about serendipity because that apple and obligatory application turned into an HISD contract a few weeks later. Serendipity or Devine Intervention? I think both.
I dragged my best college buddy to fly to Houston with me and drove into a wall of tornado green weather. Texas, I naively envisioned, was not the tumbleweed, cow grazing and long open ranges I imagined. Rather the school, Wesley Elementary was surrounded by an 8ft tall razor wire fence and dilapidated crack houses.
It was a Saturday. Mr. Lott agreed to meet me in the school for an interview. HIs voice was gruff and cantankerous on the phone, but when I joked about my first impressions of Texas, he let out a rolling belly laugh. Mr. Lott was a large intimidating African American man who commanded respect the minute I met him. Newsweek and Time magazine cover stories plastered with Mr. Lott's face were spread out across his desk (deliberately I am sure). The articles told the tale of how Lott turned the Acres Homes inner-city school around in no less than 3 years. Mr. Lott made it clear to me that if I chose to work at Wesley, I would be expected to work harder than I ever had before. The challenge was too enticing for me to resist. When he offered me the 4th grade position, I agreed enthusiastically.
You can do a Google search on Mr. Thaddeus Lott of Houston and you will get three pages of testimonials, research and accolades with stories of Lott demanding that his poverty-stricken African American students get not only an equivalent education as their white counterparts but a better education. What you will not find on Google is the impact Mr. Lott had on my life and how his influence on my life resulted in 20 years of teaching with his words and lessons in my head. He was a true education visionary. I never took the time to thank Mr. Lott for everything he did for me for the 6 years I taught in Wesley Elementary so if you don't mind, I am going to thank him now.
1. Thank you Mr. Lott for believing in me. I was a young minority white teacher...a fish out of water. I grew up in middle class America and found myself in crime-ridden Houston, Texas all because of an apple. But you taught me to never give up on a student and to always expect the very best of myself and my students.
2. Thank you Mr. Lott for gathering my Wesley family to celebrate my graduation from Tufts University. My diploma arrived unceremoniously in my Wesley Elementary mailbox one day and I had no family to celebrate with me. You giggled and beamed as I showed you my diploma and insisted we all go out to my favorite TEXMEX restaurant to celebrate properly.
3. Thank you Mr. Lott for worrying about me when I had little to no money to make my rent. I was down to counting pennies and desperately searching my Buick Skylark for jackpot quarters just so I could fill my gas tank or take myself to McDonalds. I was out of cash and was too proud to call home for help. Mr. Lott arranged for me to stay with Ms. Alva Bryant, my grade chairperson. I stayed with Alva for 3 months while I saved money for my own apartment. Alva mothered me like only an African-American woman can. She cooked black-eyed peas and fried okra and told stories about her days of growing up in rural Detroit. I gained 15 lbs and an appreciation of a rich culture.
4. Thank you Mr. Lott for insisting that every child can and should learn. I watched time and time again how students years below grade level made multiple year gains in just one year. All because of the mantra: NO EXCUSES.
5. Thank you Mr. Lott for demanding that your teachers and your students use the best tools to bridge the achievement gap. Back then you cut through the bureaucracy of HISD and raised funds just to purchase a reading program that would be a game changer for Wesley's students despite the inevitable collision with HISD politics.
6. Thank you Mr. Lott for sending me to Fred the mechanic countless times. My neon yellow 1983 Buick Skylark was a mechanic's money making dream. Mr. Lott often drove the car to Fred's shop to make sure Fred took care of me.
7. Thank you Mr. Lott for filling my head even to this day with your mantras:
"NO EXCUSES." All kids can learn and should be expected to do their best despite what life throws at them.
"You can't teach from your seat." To this day, I rarely sit down while teaching.
" You can teach from under a tree." No matter the tool, gadget or newest educational philosophy; a well trained and pedagogically sound teacher is a true gift to her students.
"Don't Fix it if it is not broken." Enough said.
He fired many new teachers within their first few months if they were not willing to work long hours including Saturdays. I was not one of those teachers. "No Excuses." Mr. Lott demanded of his teachers and his students. The result: thousands of changed lives including mine.
Thank you Mr. Lott for touching my life.
Learn more about Mr. Lott and how he touched so many lives by clicking here.