King Middle School teacher profiled in New York Times

UPDATE: Check out Tom Dunn’s profile in the AJC!

Inspiring doesn’t begin to describe the New York Times profile of King Middle School teacher Tom Dunn. The veteran defender of death-row inmates entered the teaching profession through Teach for America, and has been putting his unique blend of idealism and lawyer’s grit to help build the character in the young men at King Middle.

In the article Dunn quotes Frederick Douglass, who said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” We couldn’t agree more; the cover story in our upcoming Atlanta Educator focuses on how APS is helping turn boys into men.

In the article Dunn talked about he tried to humanize his clients before judges, how telling the stories of their lives made them more than a number. Then something happened …

After decades of accumulating such stories, Mr. Dunn said, he recognized a common thread: the lack of a supportive authority figure like a teacher, of a helping hand that might have meant “the difference between a good life and a ruined life.”
Illness forced his decision to leave the law. In 2006, he ignored a sore throat and worked through two months of grueling hearings in four cases back to back. Bacteria entered his bloodstream, causing toxic shock; the infection caused deterioration in his spine and led to congestive heart failure. He recovered, but not fully; this year, Mr. Kammer recalled, Mr. Dunn met with the staff and said: “I have the heart of a 70-year-old man. If I continue to do this work at the level I want to do it, I’m going to die.”
The same day that he left the center, he showed up at the Atlanta training program of Teach for America. During his training, he focused on special education, recalling that he saw learning disabilities “in nearly every case” on death row. He now works mainly in classrooms that blend special education students with the general population.

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