Anthony Mullen was made U.S. Teacher of the Year in 2009. I got to know about him from a link in a tweet from a Twitter friend ( and he had retweeted this from someone else!). I found that the link was to an article that he had written for Teacher magazine called “Epitaph for a Young Teacher” http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/teacher_of_the_year/2010/04/epitaph_for_a_young_teacher.html
If you get the chance to follow my link to this article I would recommend that you do so… it is one of the most powerful articles on teaching and just what teaching is all about (or should be) that I have read in a very long time.
As is the way of these things, having read the article and the brief biography of the author I did some research on the internet into Anthony Mullen. I found that there was a really good interview that he had given to UNESCO on the eve of World Teachers Day last year (October 5th) http://www.unesco.org/en/education/dynamic-content-single-view/news/anthony_mullen_talks_on_the_eve_of_world_teachers_day_october_5_about_why_he_swapped_careers_an/back/9195/cHash/348aeaef66/
In this interview we get more of the personal background of the man. He was born to a poor family in the Bronx and was unable to complete his education and eventually ended up (via a factory) working in the New York Police Department, where he rose through the ranks to become a captain.
He always wanted to complete his education and get to college and found that, through being a police officer he was able to study. He eventually left the police department (after gaining a Masters degree in special education) and became a teacher.
During the course of his police career he had seen just how many young people finish up in prison, dead or as drug addicts. That many had emotional hangups and were a threat to themselves and potentially to others. He therefore made it his ambition to teach these young adults and to spread the message, which he does so well in his articles and speeches, that the problem with education in the U.S.A. is not standards but the dropout rate of the young. The ones who get on the school to prison moving staircase. The ones who become the down and outs, the homeless, the addicts that you walk on the other side of the road to avoid.
He has taught for the last few years at an alternative high school in Connecticut. Here he teaches young people who, as he says in the video below, from a distance may look ordinary, just like any other young kid, but look closely and you will see the marks on the young red-haired girl where she has cut herself with a razor blade due to depression and look for the hidden bottle of booze that the handsome young man tries to smuggle into class because he is bi-polar and psychotic and finds drink makes him feel better.
He teaches these young people and tries to get them to realise that education is about them, not some test score or assessment of their condition, but about what they can become in the world.
Take a look at the video below, it is taken with a shaky camera (possibly mobile phone)… it is not Hollywood, but it does give you a chance to get a feel for this man and what he stands for. I feel very fortunate to have come across his story and to have read his words and listened and watched him. His life shows how a person can overcome hardships and achieve. It shows (as the UNESCO article says) just how important education is as a means of social transformation and it also shows why we must never give up on anyone and that education is about reaching for the stars not getting a star for passing a test!