Thomas Upchurch and Jameel Best started at the Soulsville Charter School at the same time, Mr. Upchurch as a new teacher and Jameel as a new student. After he graduated from college last year, Jameel returned to the school as a teacher. Mr. Upchurch, now Middle School Director, says that Jameel, now Mr. Best, has a special connection with his students because he was once a Soulsville student too.
Mr. Best explains that he gets great respect from his students who can see themselves in him. They naturally resonate with him and come to him with problems and questions about life and growing up. Even though he is young, Mr. Best is looked up to as a father figure by many of his students.
Tadarius, an 8th grade student, says he goes to Mr. Best to talk and gets honest answers to his questions. He credits his teacher with helping him be a better person. He recalls that on the first day of school he introduced himself to the new PE teacher whose height commanded his attention and whose manner commanded his respect. When Mr. Best ended their conversation by telling him to get to the class where he was supposed to be, Tadarius immediately understood that his teacher cared and was committed to helping him be his best.
Jameel had a similar experience on his first day at the Soulsville Charter School when he met with the founding principal in his office. As he slouched in his chair, Dr. Hill told him to sit up straight and fix his posture. That was the first time Jameel experienced educators who cared enough about their students to discipline and expect the best from them.
As a teacher, Mr. Best understands that it is also important to allow students to express themselves. His former teacher, Mr. Upchurch, gives us a history lesson about the Soulsville community, which has recently seen hard times. It was once a place where unprecedented creativity flourished due to the presence of the Stax Records studio. The Soulsville Charter School, located at the original Stax site, is the same kind of place, where students flourish; they go on to college and come back to contribute. It’s a place where teachers connect with their students by understanding and allowing them to express who they are, while at the same time expecting and equipping them to be their best. That’s love.