Shaker Heights High School math teacher Jayce Bailey flashes his broad, warming smile when he talks about his fiancé Shannon (whom he’ll marry on April 21), the Nintendo 3DS he carries nearly everywhere (he’s a proud video game junkie) and the students he affectionately calls “my kids.”
By any standard, Mr. Bailey is a good guy in a good life place. And he’s remarkably humble: yes, he’s worked very hard to become a teacher, but he’s also quick to acknowledge the role that teachers who kept watchful eyes over him and the kindly stranger who donated the balance of his high school tuition with shaping him into the person he is today.
Did you always want to be a teacher?
Originally, I wanted to be a comedian, but I wanted to get paid. So I went to college instead. I don’t treat my class like a standup act, but being funny is interwoven in my personality, so it just comes out as a teaching skill.
How did you find your way to Shaker?
I was teaching at Cleveland Central Catholic---it’s a small Catholic school in Cleveland where I went to high school---and my assistant principal there had a close relationship with [former High School principal] Mike Griffith. He knew I always wanted to teach in a District with diversity, so he told me about the job. That was three years ago. Now, I’m teaching Honors Algebra I and Core Geometry, but I’ve also taught Honors Algebra II.
So you grew up in Cleveland?
Yes, I grew up in Cleveland and in a lower socioeconomic background. I went to Catholic school for K-12 and to public preschool. I joke and tell people that’s where I got my edge. I had a scholarship to go to Catholic school for grades 2-8. But high school was different. I remember when I was a senior, and I got called into the office in February. They told me that I couldn’t graduate if we didn’t pay the balance on my tuition. So my mom and my sister and I sat down and started writing letters to donors to see if someone could help us so that I could stay in school. And then one day I got called back into the office and found out that an anonymous donor had paid my way. There were so many times in my life when we thought there was just no other way, but then somebody helped me.
What was your experience like at Cleveland Central Catholic?
There was a family atmosphere there. Some of my teachers there were like my second group of parents. They’re one of the main reasons why I went into teaching. I figure that if they made sure that I was successful, then I wanted to pass that on to someone else in the community. Being raised in Catholic schools gave me that moral compass and taught me to have empathy for someone and to help someone if I could.
What was college like?
I went to Marietta College in southeast Ohio and that was very different from what I’d known. It was a real learning experience---I saw that there were so many similarities between kids from lower socioeconomic levels. There were a lot of poor white kids there, too, and I saw that there was a gap between white students. That’s when I realized that when a lot of people think about achievement gaps between students, they see color. But my experience says that’s definitely not always the case.
How has this impacted your teaching?
Teaching in Shaker has been an eye opener. To see how kids from different socioeconomic levels interact in one place has been such a learning experience. And having kids in different academic levels has helped me grow as a teacher because now I can see how going through high school is for all different types of kids. Whenever you can see things from anyone side, it just helps you grow as a person. I see what I do as teaching kids about problem-solving, whether it’s related to math or to life. I try and help kids see that there’s more than one way to attack a problem. At the end of the day, if a kid is successful and remembers that Mr. Bailey cared, then I’ll have done what I hoped to do.