Camelot Education’s Excel Academy of Englewood Teacher of the Year Works in Perfect Harmony with His Students
Excel Academy of Englewood’s Teacher of the Year, Brandon Love, said working with vulnerable young people and motivating them to reach for their dreams has always been a passion of his.
Before joining Camelot Education, Love worked for a Chicago-based non-profit known as the Developing Communities Project (DCP). Incorporated 26 years ago under the leadership of its first executive director, Barack Obama, DCP works to provide a foundation, through churches, for communities to organize and address common issues and secure equitable resources.
“I was introduced to teaching through DCP,” Love said. Love graduated from Morehouse College with a degree in business administration. He said becoming a teacher was not on his radar. “I spent 15 weeks working with 8th graders, and I enjoyed it so much! The teachers I worked with would always say I should become a teacher myself.”
Love is beginning his seventh year with the Excel Academy of Englewood. This is his second time winning Teacher of the Year. He teaches music, songwriting, aspects of recording, and also delves into the entrepreneurial aspects of the music industry with his students.
“I was Teacher of the Year four years ago and never thought it would happen twice,” he said. “I was ecstatic to be honored in such a way again. This really assures me of my value to Camelot Education, but they always demonstrate their appreciation for the great work that teachers do.”
Kevin Sweetland, executive director of Excel Academy of Englewood, said Love has a tremendous rapport with the students.
“He’s always willing to take on new responsibilities,” Sweetland said. “He also runs our ‘rounds’ program, which is where teachers observe other teachers to see how they work with their students. He’s very much aligned with our overall mission, which is to provide our students with what they need to alleviate the stresses in their lives.”
Excel Academy of Englewood is an accelerated school for students that are 15 to 21 years old and are behind in their studies. The program, part of Chicago Public Schools’ Options Schools network, offers an extended day where students can earn up to five credits per semester and 10 credits per year. This allows students to graduate, earning their high school diplomas, in 2.5 years or less. Excel Academy is dedicated to creating a challenging, academically rigorous, and safe environment for all students.
“My philosophy of teaching developed during my first week at Excel Academy of Englewood,” he said. “I came in with lesson plans and preconceived ideas of what I was going to do. I quickly learned that wasn’t the right approach, not with the students we work with. You have to be one-on-one with them and meet them where they are; otherwise, they’re not going to hear you or respond to you. All of my preconceptions got thrown out the window and honestly, and I’m glad that happened. I was used to working with vulnerable youth, but being at Camelot is different. Our students are a little older and are at a different maturity level. They’re beginning to develop a deeper awareness of reality, so they value what you say to them more. You have to have a relationship with them to help build them up, but they see that what they’re learning from us is not just academics but things they can apply outside of school in developing their plans for their careers and lives. They know we’re here to encourage them.”
As for how he motivates his students, Love said that was a heavy question. “One of the things we do each morning at Excel Academy of Englewood is to assess our students’ dispositions when they walk through the doors. We read their facial expressions, their demeanor, and their interactions with others to identify students who might be having a rough day and may need more one-on-one attention. Some of them might have left a major problem at home before coming to school, so you have to become adept at reading their frame of mind if you’re going to motivate them to prepare for class. When I’m in class, I’ll often pose a question that I already know the answer to. The idea is to get them to navigate through the process of seeking an answer to that question – to really get them thinking.”
As for his future plans, Love said establishing a school choral group is a priority of his.
“I’ve been trying very hard to organize a choir, but it hasn’t been easy,” Love said. “What makes it difficult is that some of our students have to go to jobs after school, or they have to get home quickly because of family commitments. They don’t have a lot of time after school to participate, even though they’re interested, so I’m still figuring out how to work through the mechanics. As we teach our students though; I’m not about to give up on my dream.”
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