Henrico’s Top Teachers – Kenneth Davis

A high school dropout who struggled with a learning disability, Kenneth Andre Davis says that he became a GED teacher because he understands what it’s like to feel less than smart.

Although he persevered – enrolling at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College and eventually graduating from University of Richmond – he never forgot how it was to be pegged as “lazy or slow.”

He also never forgot the teachers who helped him through, especially a middle school teacher named Ms. Shaw. “She was hard on me,” he says, “which I didn’t appreciate then, but certainly did later on.”

Originally planning to become a sportswriter, Davis obtained a degree in communications, and was preparing to take on an internship at the Richmond Times Dispatch. But in the meantime, he had begun substitute teaching at different schools.

“It wasn’t until I subbed at Henrico High School, the school that I dropped out of, that I caught the teaching bug,” says Davis, “despite not teaching anything up to that point in my life.” When the principal asked him to take over the GED program temporarily, Davis found himself accepting the position despite his misgivings.

Five years later, he feels fortunate that he has found teaching. “I didn’t know that I wanted to teach,” he says, “although I always knew that I wanted to make a difference.”

As a GED teacher, he strives to help his students see that high school isn’t for everybody, and to know that the type of diploma a person gets does not define them. “It’s what you decide to do with the diploma,” he says, “that truly determines the key to your success.”

To drive the point home, Davis displays in his classroom a board with photos of GED graduates from his previous classes, as well as a board displaying pictures of famous people who have obtained their GED.

It’s clear from the words of the students and colleagues who wrote to nominate Davis as a top teacher that he has succeeded in imparting his message.

One former student credited Davis with helping him not only to receive a diploma, but also a scholarship to college. Others wrote that after obtaining their GEDs they went on to careers in the military, in nursing, and in other professions – often with Davis’ help on their resumes and the job hunt.

“He always told his students to overcome any obstacle that they have had in life,” said one student, “because he went through the same obstacles, but now he is a college graduate. “

The fact that Davis was once in their position, however, is just one of the reasons that his students find him inspiring.

“I wanted to learn in his class because of the vibe this guy gives to a classroom,” said one student. “Even the most hard-headed of students that hate school [get motivated], because after class you’ve learned more than [in] a week high school.”

“He is fun-loving and a loving teacher,” said another student. “He has the compassion and heart. He [puts himself] in his student’s situation and makes us know that we are a phone call away from him.”

“He treats all his students with the same respect he gives any other adult,” wrote another former student. “He never made us feel like we were young and immature like most teachers do. He never judged me . . . and even though I am young and married with a son, he helped me to realize my life doesn’t stop there but may continue to get better with my education. “

“He always pushed me and never gave up on me nor my classmates,” said a student. “Without Mr. Davis I would not be where I am today.”

A colleague of Davis’ wrote to say that he has never missed a GED graduation ceremony. While at Tucker H.S., he had the highest GED passing rate of all the teachers; he has also had the highest number of students take advantage of the college scholarship offer for GED recipients.

“He believes in his students,” said his colleague, “and in turn they start believing in themselves.”

Both Davis and his colleague cite the case of a recent GED graduate as an example of what can be accomplished once a student acquires that belief.

Even before the student entered his program, Davis had heard about him from other teachers – “and let’s just say that they weren’t singing his praises,” he recalls, noting that the student had been described as hyper, disruptive, and disrespectful.

What’s more, by his third year at Tucker, the student had acquired exactly zero credits.

In spite of his reputation, Davis was determined to give the boy a clean slate, and before long they had found common ground in their music and fashion tastes. According to Davis, they simply “clicked,” and the boy began to improve in “leaps and bounds.”

Within nine months in the program the young man was able to make up four years, says Davis, “due to his work ethic and strong belief in himself.”

Now a freshman at Stratford University majoring in culinary arts, the former student invited Davis to his college orientation, where Davis says he found himself reminiscing about that “disrespectful, disruptive young man who went through two years of high school without a credit.”

That’s the beauty of his job, says Davis, and the source of his passion to teach.

“Right before your eyes, you watch their apathy turn into unbridled interest,” he says, “and a once-resistant student turn into a willing and engaging one.”
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Each month, the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Richmond Chapter conducts support group meetings to provide the community with an opportunity to meet for mutual support and to exchange coping skills. A Rare Dementia Support Group, for caregivers and individuals with other dementias, will meet at 2 p.m. at the VCU Neurological Orthopedic Wellness Center, 11958 W. Broad St. For details, call 967-2580. Full text

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