Salome Thomas-EL has spent his life making a difference for
kids in high-poverty schools in Philadelphia, as a teacher and
principal. He inspires students through chess (the Vaux Middle
School chess teams he coached were eight-time National Chess
Champions) and through his own story: Raised by a single mother
in Philadelphia’s housing projects, he became an award-winning
educator. He is author of I Choose to Stay: A Black Teacher
Refuses to Desert the Inner City (Kensington, 2003) and The
Immortality of Influence (Kensington, 2010) and is a regular
contributor on The Dr. Oz Show.
You’ve said you still hear the voices of teachers who
encouraged you. Do you think teachers have a unique
influence on how young people see their life possibilities?
I do. I often say teachers are “saving Private Ryan” every day. I see students in the schools where I work who hang on every word a teacher
says. That influence is so powerful because for many students, that
teacher becomes their mother, their father, their counselor, their nutritionist, their life coach.
Many young people are the first in their families to have an opportunity to get a college education. It’s very powerful for a teacher to be
A Conversation with Salome Thomas-EL