12th Grade English, Benjamin Banneker High School College Park, GA
After studying Comparative Religion at Lake Forest College in Illinois, Matthew Patterson returned to his home city of Atlanta to teach English. He came to Banneker High School, a historically struggling school.
Alongside his colleagues, Matthew, who also has a Master’s degree from Agnes Scott College, has been working to change the school's reputation: For 6 of his 10 years at Banneker, his students have been the only students in the school to pass any A.P. exam. Matthew believes that a trusting and thriving classroom culture is key to academic success. Under his leadership, his students see a drastically lower occurrence of discipline referrals than before entering his class.
If you ask Matthew about these accomplishments, he will give all credit to his students. “I'm the only thing that keeps us back,” he says. “The students are ready to rock.”
A big reason for Matthew’s success is his unwavering belief in his students’ abilities to exceed expectations, and his ability to give them access to challenging content framed in an engaging context. On any given day in his class, students might discuss the Atlanta hip-hop duo Outkast and German philosopher Jurgen Habermas in the same lesson. A classroom Twitter feed allows students to correspond with journalists and novelists and serves as a real-time window for parents to check in on their children's progress.
At Banneker, Matthew is co-chair of the English Language Arts department, whose students have scored higher than any other department in the building for years. His wide taste in literature is responsible for transforming the school’s English Language Arts curriculum from one that wasn’t very diverse to one that includes books specifically chosen for both academic rigor and relevance to his students’ experiences. “He works hard to be a transformative teacher, and our students truly love him,” says his assistant principal.