Lia Dunakin, Adrie Young
Daniel Symonds, an African American and World History teacher at SLA, is leaving the SLA community at the end of the school year after six years of teaching here.
During his time as a teacher at the school, Symonds has helped to establish many new and exciting programs. These include the SLA bowling team, the rock climbing club, and the international exchange program with Frankfurt, Germany. He also teaches a 10-12th grade elective named Philadelphia Power and Politics.
Mr. Symonds is not leaving Philadelphia, however – he will be attending Temple Law School in the public interest program.
“I would not forgive myself for having missed the opportunity to go to law school,” he said about the career shift. “I can’t imagine another point in my life where I’d have the chance to do this… although I might not enjoy being a lawyer as much, I might not be as good at it, but I think I’ll make more of a difference.”
At law school, one of Mr. Symonds’ main goals is to gain more power, which he hopes to use for the common good.
“I’d like to be a person who can help social movements in my lifetime do well,” he explained about his future intentions. So, as Black Lives Matter, as climate justice movements, as economic justice movements grow in this century, there have to be some lawyers to protect those movements’ money, to help people when they’re dealing with state violence and arrest and things like that.”
Mr. Symonds leaving opened up a spot in SLA’s history department, and he made sure to involve himself in finding a new teacher.
One thing that Mr. Symonds feels strongly about is the importance of hiring a person of color to join the SLA history department. Especially since they would likely be teaching 9th graders African American history, he was adamant about that. “It’s high time that we try, when we’re doing hiring at SLA, to make our staff less white,” he said.
Matthew Kay, a freshman and sophomore English teacher, was also involved in finding a new history teacher. Mr. Kay volunteered to be involved in the search even though he is not in the same department. This is because he would be working closely with them, as he does with Mr. Symonds, since they teach the same students every year.
According to Mr. Kay, to find a new teacher, SLA posts the job, and people interested send resumes and cover letters to Principal Lehmann. He also mentioned that there is always a hiring committee.
“Mr. Lehmann allows any of us who want to be on the committee to be on. I normally don’t volunteer to be on them because it’s a lot of work – you’ve got all the interviews and stuff like that – but this year I’m on it…because if this new person slides into Mr. Synomds’ teaching load we’re gonna be sharing students. And so I figured that while the history department makes the call, I wanted to, you know, lend my voice to it since whoever it is will be someone who I’ll be working with,” said Mr. Kay.
After looking at the applications and deciding which ones they like, the committee brings people in for an interview.
When asked about his personal criteria for the applicants, Mr. Symonds mentioned that he was looking for a person that was enthusiastic about the past, and could make students excited about learning from others. He described it as “an unapologetic nerd.”
Normally, the committee makes an offer off of the interview. But in a scenario where the committee likes multiple applicants, they will provide an opportunity for a demo lesson. This allows teachers and staff members to see the candidates teach, and also provides space for student feedback.
And this is what happened for the two finalists for the position of history teacher; they were brought in to each teach a 20-minute demo lesson to copper stream.
Maxine Wray, a sophomore in copper stream, described what it was like in the classroom during and after the demo lessons. She added that after both of the demo lessons had finished, Principal Lehmann and some of the other teachers observing the lessons had asked the class what they thought about the candidates.
“People were saying that they liked one teacher better than the other, and someone also said that the first teacher was better cut out for SLA because she had students collaborate,” Wray said.
Wray also expressed her opinions on student involvement in the process: “It’s so important to have student feedback, because we’re the ones being taught…I thought it was really helpful.”
In the end, the candidate that both students and teachers liked best, Ms. Clancy, who is a person of color, was offered the job. Ms. Clancy is currently a student teacher at the Academy of Palumbo and is getting her teaching degree at Temple.
“I thought Ms. Clancy did a really good job of showing that she is interested in the people who are doing the learning, not just in the quality of the ideas being shared,” said Mr. Symonds.
When asked his thoughts on Mr. Symonds leaving, Mr. Kay wished him the best in finding new avenues for his passions, such as social justice.
“The second he said ‘I’m going to law school’ I’m like ‘well that’s on-brand. That makes total sense for him,’” Mr. Kay said.
Mr. Symonds expressed that what he will miss most about SLA is working with teenagers.
“Kids are more open-minded, funnier, and just a lot more ambitious and a little less jaded than adults.” From walking around the school and helping students, to a desk job, the paces of each career are very different.
During the beginning of law school, Mr. Symonds told us that he is going to be very focused, and doing everything he can to be a top student. But after the first year, he expressed that he doesn’t want to be a stranger to SLA students.
“I would love to teach, if it’s like, a mini-course…I would love to help teach legal skills to students…I’m still trying to remind people that I really want to help them with college financial aid and rec letters. I’m not really disappearing, but, my priority’s going to be school – just for the first year.”
Students would also love to see Mr. Symonds around the building even if he is not teaching them history anymore.
Mr. Symonds’ advisee, sophomore Anna Diemer, said “Mr. Symonds does a great job at creating a sense of community in our advisory, that is going to be extremely difficult, but not impossible, to replicate.”
“I was pretty sad about [Mr. Symonds leaving SLA] because he’s such an iconic teacher and I feel like his energy is something that SLA needs more of,” said Wray. “It’s like a bitter-sweet feeling. I’m excited to see whatever he does in the future.”
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