Veteran English Teacher Will Aim For Personal Spin


BP Photo by Ezra Fax

LOCKS: Mr. Smith’s dreadlocks are 21 years old.

By Lucy Fried, Arts & Culture Editor

Mr. Eric Smith likes to laugh, and says he laughs at himself a lot.

“Not that students should try to make me laugh; education is a very serious thing, but we can’t take ourselves too seriously,” said Mr. Smith.

Mr. Smith will be teaching freshman and sophomore English this year, and said he’d put a “Mr. Smith spin” on the curriculum.

“I like to challenge students academically, I really like to stimulate their intellectual curiosity,” he said in an interview last week.

“After about two weeks the students should get used to the routines, because it can be a little heavy at first but then you realize, oh, you can do this.”

Raised in Gary, Indiana, Mr. Smith attended public high school and had jobs all throughout his high school career, first as a lifeguard in for the summers after grades nine and 10. During his junior and senior years, he would attend school for half the day and work the other half the day as what he called “the burger king” at nearby Burger King restaurants.

He then went on to achieve a Bachelor’s degree in Social Studies Education with an emphasis on U.S. History and American Government from Purdue University, followed by a Master’s degree in Educational Organizational Leadership from the University of Illinois.

Before coming to Shalhevet, Mr. Smith taught for 20 years — 16 in Chicago at various schools and then four at Fusion Academy in Woodland Hills. In Chicago, Mr. Smith helped found and develop the curriculum for Urban Prep Charter Academy along with some friends, and was an administrator there.

He said his favorite part of teaching is just that: the teaching and the learning.

“The whole process of watching young people mature intellectually, mature socially and emotionally, and get that critical thinking piece to become inquisitive and inquire about the world and challenge it, I love that,” Mr. Smith said.

Along with wanting students to challenge the world, Mr. Smith likes to challenge his students, mostly through reading and writing and with an emphasis on rewriting.

“Ninety percent of writing is rewriting,” he said. “I’m really big into editing and peer editing.”

Mr. Smith describes writing as one of his main personal hobbies, calling himself a “closeted letter and essay writer.”

He’s been wearing dreadlocks for 21 years — “They’re older than most — no, all — of my students,”  he said — and also enjoys swimming and was a high school swim coach, and now is working on his grilling skills.

And he also is the school’s first African-American teacher who’s not a P.E. coach. But though he has no previous connection to Shalhevet, he said he felt a natural connection upon coming to the school.

“I think it called me, because it doesn’t feel foreign or weird here at all,” he said.