Inspiring the next generation of male educators
Words by Tess Campbell
Photos by Kaitlyn Stoddard
Photo Assistants: Christina Iovinelli and Mollie Wright
David Jamison failed the third grade, but not for lack of knowledge.
He was suspended so many times that year that he didn’t qualify as having completed it. His teachers whispered that he would “never make it” and speculated that he’d end up arrested or worse. He was labeled a “problem student,” and his teachers encouraged his mother to have him medicated. What they didn’t know, or take time to understand, was that David’s parents had divorced that year, that his behavior was born from a simple need for a male role model.
David graduated from high school with a singular goal: to be the first person in his family to graduate with a college degree.
He attended Tougaloo College, a four-year college in Jackson, Mississippi, where he graduated with a degree in English. It was there that his personality really began to blossom. He was on the dean’s list, joined a fraternity, was cast in his first commercial, and participated in pageants. It was also there that David had his first black male teacher. It was a life-changing experience that David says definitely molded him into the man he is today.
That man is a fifth grade English teacher in Memphis, Tennessee, who is getting national attention for his passion and dedication to his students. David says,
“I was counted out as a kid, and now I’m the one who is counted on.”
The path to the classroom wasn’t a smooth one, though. Most teachers study education in college and go straight into the classroom, but David took a more circuitous path.
Fresh out of college, David worked as a labor coordinator, providing temporary employees to work during strikes. There was a teacher strike in Ohio, and David was needed to step in and put his English degree to use. He taught for one month before going back to his labor coordination job, but during that month he saw relationships built with his students that he never expected. He didn’t realize it then, but now he describes this time as God giving him a preview of his life’s calling.
After the labor coordination job, David worked as an assistant manager for a Fortune 500 company for three years. He says, “I stayed because I was making good money, but I wasn’t happy. I knew I wasn’t fulfilling my purpose, so I was going to work unhappy most days. And I stayed until God just made it too uncomfortable.” And when it finally became too uncomfortable, David packed up and moved to Atlanta to pursue a career in acting and modeling. He was cast as an extra in several television shows and music videos, but being rear-ended on the interstate set him back home to Memphis.
While he was working part-time serving tables, he encountered the familiar face of James Gordon. James is older than David, but they are from the same town and were members of the same fraternity. James was the principal at Newberry Elementary School, and he struck up a conversation with David, asking, “Do you still have a passion for teaching? Because we need more male teachers.” The conversation ended with a job offer, and David started his first year in the classroom. “He really just gave me a chance,” David explains.
As he began planning what his classroom would look and feel like, he recalled his own childhood obsession with handshakes. “I had a special handshake with my best friend, and I’ve just always loved them. So I decided I wanted to include them in my classroom.” So, David encouraged each of his students to devise a special handshake he could use to greet that student every day. He will tell you that this is important because relationships are crucial. “The foundation to any lesson plan is love and human interaction. Feeling loved and like you belong is a basic need of everyone, and I make sure that’s part of my classroom every day,” he explains. He goes on to say that so many teachers focus on curriculum and bypass the students’ basic needs all together. “You never know what’s going on with these kids. It’s my job to give them a space to get away from it.”
He goes on to tell of a girl who fell asleep while he was being evaluated by one of his administrators. Rather than get angry, he simply pulled her aside later and asked why. It was then that he learned the girl and her mother had become homeless, so she hadn’t been sleeping at night. Another student admitted that he didn’t have the previous night’s homework, and through kind conversation David learned that the family had no electricity—no light by which to complete the homework assignment. Relationships are crucial.
One relationship David points to as being crucial for his own growth is the relationship with his mentor, Robert Payne, Sr. David and Robert met when David was in college. Robert was David’s personal trainer, but he saw something in David. “He saw greatness in me,” David says. “He helped call my success into existence.” David and Robert still talk daily, and Robert continues to encourage and be a role model for David. David had many teachers growing up, but he never had an educator. And that’s what he strives to be now—an educator and a role model for every student who passes through his classroom.
And now he’s also inspiring the next generation of male educators around the world. In David’s second year in the classroom, he decided to record the handshakes. Just a fun video to post on Facebook. And that video went viral. Now in his third year, he has been on his local news, Access Hollywood, and Good Morning America, and he has many more amazing opportunities in the works. He’s using his newfound platform to encourage educators and future educators. “They are the ones who are, right now, molding our future doctors, lawyers, presidents. They’re the ones who need the most inspiration.”
David’s most powerful message isn’t for other educators. It’s for parents: Never give up on your kid. You never know who they’ll turn out to be.
Follow David @thedopeeducator on Insta to see what’s happening in his classroom!