Despite the impressive list of places where he has taught—from the Bronx, to Austin, Texas, to the Cherokee Indian Reservation in North Carolina—you’d be hard-pressed to
find a teacher anywhere that has as much enthusiasm for their system as Erik Batson has for Birmingham City Schools.
Sitting at a table at Starbucks in Five Points South, wearing cycling clothes complete with a “Brooklyn”-emblazoned cycling cap, he professed, “I love my job. I love working for Jackson-Olin, and I love working for Birmingham City Schools—much better than other places I have been.”
Mr. Batson is a Career Academy Coordinator at Jackson-Olin High School in Ensley, where he leads academies in both health sciences and information technology. His academy programs are available to students starting in their sophomore year and continuing through senior year, progressing from field trips and tours of facilities like UAB Hospital (in partnership with Ed’s Bridging the Gap program), to job shadowing, to paid internships. The goal of the academy programs is to open the eyes of students to all of their post-graduation options, whether post-secondary education or straight to career.
In order to help his students enter the professional world successfully, Batson emphasizes certain essential skills, such as email composition, eye contact, and the value of a solid handshake. Ed’s Bridging the Gap tours, and the Career Development Conference, give students the chance to meet face-to-face with real professionals, and a chance to test the things they learn in school. “I look at my kids and tell them, ‘this may be the day you meet the person that shapes your life,” said Batson.
He cited an example of a recent student of his who thoroughly impressed her internship supervisor, a woman who happened to be Batson’s neighbor. After the student had been on the job for just a couple of weeks, he said, his neighbor approached him with glowing praise of her intern. “She told me, ‘This is your student?! Well when she wants a job she has a job.’ And this student is in high school, working at a medical firm. When I take my kids on tours and they interact with professionals, the people they meet are impressed. Employers see that they have unlimited potential. They see hard-working, interested, bright young minds.”
When asked about Birmingham City Schools and its ongoing growth and development, Batson feels that the most important factor in the system’s success is the quality of its teachers. “It’s mainly about getting enthusiastic teachers into Birmingham that want to make the city better, and then keeping them here. And in the two years I’ve been here, I’ve seen that happen.” Mentioning other Academy Coordinators, fellow teachers, and friends of the system, he asserted, “I’ve seen passionate people who are excited about trying to help. Now the question is, ‘How do we do it? How do we make our schools even better for our students?”
Batson holds that the key to making Birmingham into a great city lies in the success of Birmingham City Schools. “I see new people coming into the system with positive outlooks, like if we work together, we can make our schools better. And I think, if we can allow our students to reach their full potential, then the city erupts at that point. Everyone will want to be here, downtown. You won’t want to live thirty minutes outside the city anymore.” If Birmingham continues to attract teachers as optimistic, energetic, and enthusiastic as Erik Batson, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t see that happen.
This piece was written by Walt Evans, Summer Writing Fellow with the Birmingham Education Foundation, and rising senior at Sewanee: The University of the South.