Mr. Jordan stood out in a strong field of candidates who applied last Spring to join Common Ground’s faculty, and we jumped at the opportunity to bring him onto our team! Now, he teaches English as part of Core 10 – Common Ground’s unique, integrated 10th grade experience, which takes the whole City of New Haven as its focus and classroom. He also teaches a Nature Literature elective for 11th and 12th graders, and shares a 9th grade guidance group with Mr. Beller.
What’s your path to get to Common Ground?
It’s a complicated path to teaching! I have always loved working with high school-aged young people. I taught in Ecuador for a year after college. After graduate school, I was living in Hartford and working for an organization that builds up youth leadership in the Connecticut food justice movement, and I was also running programs on substance abuse prevention. I wanted to be just working with students – but all the other stuff I had to do was getting in the way of working directly with young people. After that, I lived in Russia and taught at a university there. When my wife and I moved back to the United States, I got a job teaching at a charter school in Washington, DC for 4 years.
I had learned about Common Ground when I was working in Hartford – because Common Ground’s work around youth leadership and food justice was known around the state. My wife’s family is from Connecticut, so when we had a baby, we wanted to be closer to family. It was serendipitous – I already knew a place in New Haven that was a really good match for the work that I love.
Why Common Ground?
I was super excited when I came to Common Ground. I really appreciate the focus on social justice and building up youth leadership. That’s something I’ve always really cared about.
It’s also a smaller school, where we really care about relationships. Students don’t slip through the cracks in the way that may at a larger school.
It’s also a space where students can really be themselves, which I think is a cool thing.
I love working with high school students. I just think it’s fun. Not everyone would say that, I suppose. It’s a great age – because you can have really thoughtful, meaningful conversations. But high school students are not jaded the way adults sometimes are about the state of the world, and the possibility of real change. High school students bring a lot of energy and enthusiasm. You have to be honest and real with them, as well. Adults may give you a pass when you say something that’s not 100% based in reality – but young people make sure you mean what you say.
What are you teaching about this year?
I teach two classes; Core 10 English, and a Nature Lit elective. In Core 10, it’s great to be part of this interdisciplinary team, making connections across classes. I used to teach social studies, and it’s exciting to bring in that context about how human relationships and power work.
The first unit for Core 10 – focused on New Haven stories – was really fun. It helped students develop their personal narrative writing skills, their connection to place. It gave them the opportunity to connect with what matters to them, where they came from.
We read Native Son, which is a pretty challenging book. Students were intimidated at first – it was a substantial book, set in 1940. It was great to see them rise to the challenge, and do something they weren’t sure they could do. Students wrote really good essays – I could see them growing.
This most recent unit has been about climate change. Each of the Core 10 classes is focused on a different aspect of it. In English, we’ve been focused on storytelling, ways that people communicate issues around climate change – sometimes in really creative ways. The science is really important, but climate change doesn’t just need to be taught in science class. The idea that you can communicate climate information through stories, through songs and performances, is really powerful. As part of the unit, we were reading Parable of the Sower by Octavio Butler. We paused halfway through the book and wrote our own climate short stories. Kids who were really intimidated to write anything at the beginning of the year, wrote 15 or 20 page short stories.
What were you like as a high school student?
I was always really into English as a high school student. I loved classes where we got to talk about big ideas. My favorite was a course called Dominant Ideas. We’d read books, but they were really a gateway into asking important questions about the world.
I went to a big, public high school with 1700 kids. I often think, how would I have been different if I went to a school like Common Ground? I got to graduation, and walked across the stage, and there were people I didn’t know. It makes a huge different to be in a school community where you are known to everyone.
What would you like families and students to know about you as a person?
I have a 2 year old, so I don’t have a lot of time for much besides taking care of him and teaching! We go for a lot of walks, and visit a lot of playgrounds. We spend a lot of time in East Rock Park, which I love.
We really like to cook – so I really appreciated getting our farm share from Common Ground in the fall.
I’d also like families to know they can reach out to me if they want. I really value being in touch with the important people in my student’s lives. Families can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.