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Feb
21

Mr. MU Teaches More than Social Studies

provided by: The Kansas City Star, Mo.

Mr. Mu teaches more than social studies [The Kansas City Star, Mo.]

That’s what the new MetLife Survey of the American Teacher found. The 28th annual report, a result of telephone interviews with more than 1,000 teachers nationwide, found just 44 percent of them were satisfied with their jobs. To make matters worse, 29 percent say they are likely to leave the profession within the next five years.

Dramatic cuts to the education budget, administration politics and layoffs all play a part in the discontent. It’s clear we have to demand better for our teachers and students.

But it’s important that people know not all teachers are disgruntled and ready to abandon ship. There are still teachers who are happy in the classroom despite the economic downturn.

Meet David Muhammad.

He’s kind of a big deal in Shawnee Mission schools. He’s that rare teacher who all the kids like, even the ones who don’t take his social studies class at Trailridge Middle School in Lenexa. They call him Mr. Mu.

He’s 27, wears sneakers and bright colors, and doesn’t shy away from joking with the students and challenging them to be their best. He sponsors two clubs: Coalition is a group dedicated to raising money and awareness for global efforts such as Invisible Children and Love 146. I Am My Brother’s Keeper is an all-boys club to promote brotherhood and good decision-making skills.

On a Tuesday after school, I sat in on a Coalition meeting. The students discussed the Toms Shoes One Day Without Shoes movement on April 10. The kids plan to meet before school and do a barefoot march to shed light on the millions of kids who are at risk for injury and disease because they can’t afford shoes.

“It’s not going to be easy,” Muhammad warned the club. “But it’s not supposed to be. And you will never forget it.”

Isn’t that what they should say about teaching? It’s hard, but worth it. And to think, after spending all day at school and sponsoring the clubs, Muhammad teaches karate at his father’s Kwanzaa Martial Arts Academy in Kansas City and still finds time to compete.

How does he do it? He says it’s about maximizing your potential.

“We’re all given the same amount of time in each day,” he says. “Tomorrow is not guaranteed. People talk about the problems of the world, but they don’t take any action. I want to make a difference now while I can.”

He teaches this can-do attitude to his students.

Courtney Jones, a seventh-grader in Coalition, says Muhammad teaches them how powerful they are.

“I didn’t think about the problems of the world before I got involved in Coalition,” she says. “Mr. Mu teaches us that we can make a difference.”

She doesn’t have him as a teacher but says she got involved in the club initially because of Muhammad’s popularity.

“Everyone talks about Mr. Mu,” says Courtney, 12. “You hear stories about how fun his class is. He gives them nicknames and makes learning fun.”

And what about his nickname — Mr. Mu? What’s that about?

Muhammad is an African-American Muslim. The moniker makes his name easier to say.

“They are not used to seeing someone like me,” he says. “There is a global fear of Islam, and I want them to know we aren’t all crazy terrorists running around. I want them to know not all black people talk or dress a certain way. Hopefully they see me and see that we’re not so different from one another.”

His students see more than that. They see a good teacher. More than a few kids described him as “the most fun.”

Oddly enough, the Shawnee Mission School District almost lost him. Two years ago, he was one of 39 teachers laid off. He lost his job teaching geography at Shawnee Mission East High School. Two weeks later, someone retired. He was rehired.

Now, he’s a middle-school teacher, and he says his experience only made him love teaching more.

Muhammad himself was a student in the Shawnee Mission district. He went to Indian Woods Middle School and Shawnee Mission South High School in Overland Park. For him, teaching was a calling.

It started with karate classes, but he knew he wanted to teach academics too, specifically one of his favorite topics: history.

“I know a lot of kids dread social studies. They think it’s boring. But I love history. The old cliche ‘You have to know your past to know your future’ is true. Finding out the story behind things is fascinating. I strive to make it fun.”

Michaela Keller says there’s a big difference between his class and other classes she has taken.

“Some teachers just hand out worksheets and that’s it, but Mr. Mu really talks to us and explains things,” says Michaela, 12. “He makes everything more fun. He makes us want to pay attention. I like learning in his class.”

As much as the students look up to Muhammad, he looks up to them, too.

“It’s humbling to know the kids like me. In a way, I think part of it is because I am still a kid in a lot of ways, but I never want to rest on my youth,” Muhammad says. “I walk into class with a genuine interest in the students, and I want to teach them. I think kids are a lot smarter than they get credit for. The children teach us too.”

Jenee Osterheldt’s column runs in FYI on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. To reach her, call 816-234-4380 or email josterheldt@kcstar.com. “Like” her on Facebook at facebook.com/jeneeinkc.

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