John Legend has written about his own high school education in a powerful op-ed about empowering teachers for HuffPost.
In the post—entitled “By Empowering Teachers, We Can Level The Playing Field For Every Student”—the singer urged greater support for teachers to “ensure that future generations” will have access to better quality education and, as a result, far greater opportunities in life.
“I still remember standing at the podium during my high school graduation, looking out over the crowd,” wrote Legend. He said that in that moment, it struck him that the number of students graduating was half what it had been at freshman orientation. “Nearly fifty percent of my peers had given up on their education and dropped out,” he noted.
He said that in Springfield, Ohio—where he grew up—success was not “a widespread expectation for young people”.
“Looking back, I realize, had it not been for a few teachers who saw my potential and sparked my passion, I might not have found a love of learning and the confidence to pursue my dreams,” wrote Legend.
Legend reflected on one teacher in particular who shaped his education and set him on the path to becoming a singer/songwriter.
“My English teacher, Mrs. Bodey, was instrumental in the educational journey that carried me through school and into my career,” wrote Legend. “Until her class, I hadn’t believed in my ability as a writer.”
He said that Mrs. Bodey recognised his potential as a writer, and showed him he could “write with creativity, with clarity, with passion.”
Mrs. Bodey, along with a few other teachers, helped me gain confidence in my skills and pushed me to challenge myself. They pushed me to graduate second in my class. They pushed me to deliver the speech at our graduation. They pushed me to earn a scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania, to hone my writing as an English Major and, ultimately, toward a successful career as a songwriter.
Legend used his experience of being inspired and pushed by a teacher during high school to illustrate a wider point about teaching in America. He wrote that teachers are “uniquely positioned to awaken and foster potential” in students, but they needed greater support and funding to “tap the innovator potential”.
He talked about LRNG Innovators, a project he co-founded which gives grants to teachers to enable them to develop ways for students to develop their interests.
“I can say with certainty that my success is due in large part to the teachers who believed in me and encouraged my love of writing,” Legend added.