Clemens Boakye – Secondary Math Teacher
Clemens Boakye – “Mr. B” – joined Dell City ISD this year as the school's secondary math teacher. And in his first month, he's already made his mark, with the intensity and passion he brings to the classroom. That same passion has powered a bold and remarkable journey – from a small village in the African nation of Ghana, to a graduate degree and teaching career in West Texas.
Boakye is focused, with singleminded attention, on improving student achievement. Dell City School test scores in math have been poor – and Boakye is committed to improving those outcomes, specifically for the seventh-grade, eighth-grade and Algebra 1 students who take STAAR exams this year. Boakye will be here next year, he said, and he's invested in the results.
“I will just be happy when, by next year this time, I see that that the performance has really improved,” he said. “You can only do that when you do a lot of hours of tutoring, and by making sure that you're doing the right things in class, and that you do a lot of preparation before you go to class – that's my aim.”
In the effort to improve outcomes, “student engagement is very powerful for a teacher,” Boakye said. He said the challenge for many students is that “they have gaps – they missed the basics, and so don't have a foundation to build on.” When those students move into higher-level courses, they often “don't know what's happening.” Boakye is in the classroom before and after the school day, working closely with students to lay those foundations.
“If we can get them one-on-one, that might help,” he said. “If you can fill those gaps, and students have the basis, when they come to your next class, they will be ready to learn.”
Boakye said school leaders are providing critical support in his work. Dell City School faculty and administrators meet in “professional learning communities,” and for other professional development, multiple times each week. Boakye is not new to teaching, but he said the trainings and conversations are fruitful.
“It is all about the leadership of this school,” he said. “They are developing us – as professional teachers. In these four weeks, I've learned a lot. There are so many things I've learned since I came here, through the leadership of Mr. Contreras,” the school's principal.
It's Boakye's eighth year as a teacher. His teaching and tutoring career has developed in four countries, across three continents.
Boakye was born and raised in the village of Bekwai, in Ghana. The village is in Ghana's Ashanti region – a powerful historic kingdom. Ghana was colonized by the British. The Akan language was his region's mother tongue, but English was the “medium of instruction” in the schools Boakye attended, and all the teaching he has done has been in English.
Boakye's roots were humble, and, initially, a university education was financially out of reach. The Ghanaian government provides stipends, or allowances, to students in teachers' colleges, and Boakye enrolled in teacher training. As a high-school student, Boakye had realized he was “very powerful in terms in of math.” He focused on math at the teachers' college. After completing the three-year course, he went to work as a math teacher.
But he wanted to learn more, and to advance. After three years of teaching, he enrolled at Ghana's University of Science and Technology, in the city of Kumasi, to study pure math. (Boakye said his mother was a driving force in his educational pursuit – she was insistent, he said, and “spoke about it a lot.”) And though he'd initially gone into teaching partly out of necessity, Boakye now discovered it had become a part of him.
“Teaching is what I had done,” he said, “and I had come to be in love with it.”
Boakye said some people are baffled at his interest in math. But, he said “when you have the passion, and you're good at it, you develop an interest – you know you can work with it. That's how I became a mathematician.”
As a university student, Boakye visited the United Kingdom. The experience planted a seed.
“In Ghana, it's very difficult,” he said. “If you want to be successful, either you come from a rich family, or your father is a politician. If you come from the places where I come from, then you need to make it work on your own.”
In Britain, he saw that in some countries, opportunity wasn't confined to the elite.
“After that, I knew if I wanted to make it in life, I needed to start flying,” he said.
And so he did. After completing his bachelor's degree, Boakye moved to South Africa, teaching high-school mathematics there for three years. He moved next to Australia, and worked for a year as a tutor. And then, he came to the States, to pursue a master's degree in math at UTEP. While at UTEP, he also pursued the alternative program to be certified as a teacher in Texas. Last year, he taught math at Coronado High School in El Paso.
Of the nation's in which he's taught, he said he's been most pleased with the system in the U.S. He said the certification requirements here insure that teachers go into the classroom with “the training and the tools they need,” including in areas like special education and English-language learning.
Boakye taught six classes at Coronado High School – and he teaches six classes in Dell City. But here, each class is a different course. Boakye teaches seventh-grade math, eighth-grade math, Algebra 1, Algebra 2, college-prep math and pre-calculus. The preparation involved in teaching so many courses is demanding, he said.
“As a teacher, you don't think, 'Oh, I know my content, and that's it,'” he said. “You need to have a plan. How am I going to get students to understand? What kinds of questions am I going to give to them.? And you need to have all that preparation done before the next day.”
Boakye's global journeys have been with his wife. The couple have a 2-year-old daughter, and, now, a 2-month-old son.
Boakye's drive to learn and grow continues. He said he may pursue a PhD, in applied mathematics, or in education, with a concentration in math. But for now, there's no mistaking his focus on the Dell City School classroom.