A Day in the Life of Sam Kankam, Member of the Great Oaks Tutor Corps


4:30 am – 5:30 am

These days I am the exception to the “wake up after 5:00 am” rule. My alarms never go off after 4:45. After I wake, I use 45 minutes to take care of my morning rituals and an extra 5 to 10 minutes for prayer.

5:30 am – 6:30 am

“Finding the right scale for a graph is like finding the perfect dress for prom,” I told a student during plotting graphs instruction. This period involves some combinatorial skills. For example, knowing the number of pants, shirts, briefs, under shirts and pair of socks I have and accounting for combinations worn, I pick out the best attire for the day. I leave home around 6:10 am with the best company (gospel rap and red bull) I could ever ask for during my 10 minute walk to work.

6:30 am – 7:55 am

I settle in by 6:35 am. At this time, I have to figure out where I want to work taking into account my environment and the productivity level around me. I flip a coin in my head and it’s either room 505 Mr. Gibbs room since I am his TA for 8th grade or the 3rd floor common space (3rd floor has been winning the toss lately). I check in with Mr. Gibbs if need be then I catch up on incomplete work from the previous day and prepare for tutorials and secondary duties.

8:03 am – 8:58 am

I wish I could sit in on Mr. Gibbs 1st class with Purdue University but that is justified by the saying “if horses were wishes, beggars would ride” so on that Ms. Wright takes care of the class while I do an awesome job with my two six graders. At the beginning of the year, I only had one-6th grader, he was my joy and sunshine; clay I was going to mold but due to forces beyond our control, we parted ways. I have two new students since then. Two students on opposite sides of the spectrum, which makes my work very challenging but I come around every time to accomplish what needs to be done.I love my first tutorial not because it is a math tutorial but because it is the first time of the day I get to interact with my sixth graders.

9:01 am – 10:54 am

Oh yeah, this might seem like a long break but believe me it passes faster than the best NASCAR driver. One of my duties as a TA is to check for homework completion. I grab submitted homework from designated bins. Sometimes homework falls in different bins and if not found, woe betide me to enter incorrect data.

Alongside the homework check come meetings, secondary tasks, TTC’s and PD. I check-in with Mr. Gibbs about the packet for the day and class; sometimes I sit in his class with William Patterson. I go over my tutorial packets and check-in with my elite male tutors until my eighth graders arrive for their math tutorial.

10:57 am – 11:52 am

All hail 8th grade tutorial. Yes! This tutorial I look forward to every day and I am not being biased, I am the 8th grade TA, I take 50% share in making the packets and I love doing that. It gives me joy to see my work on display and see my 3 eighth graders dive in it. I get to indulge in mathematical conversations with them; we dive deep into the topics and talk about how they apply to our lives in general. I enjoy the tutorial and their company very much.

11:55 am – 1:28 pm

I spend the first 30 minutes of this period in the big hall assisting with lunch transitions in and out. After that, I get to the third floor set lunch if I have any or sit and go over ELA packets. On the third floor with me are my fellow colleagues who don’t have any 7th grade students, we make fun of each other, go over packets together and indulge in a higher level intellectual conversations. At this time, I would be finishing my third or fourth red bull depending on how tired I am.

1:31 pm – 3:24 pm

First hour of this period is 6th grade ELA tutorial. ELA has always been a challenge for me so I pay very close attention to this tutorial and the next in order to execute my instructions perfectly for the students. Depending on the skill we work on that day, I share a personal story; they love to hear my stories especially those from my younger days in Ghana, West Africa.

My 6th graders are not very conversational but my 8th graders OMG! They cannot stop once the start. During exit ticket for 6th grade, I descend to the realm of 4th floor room 411 where Purdue University students have just finished science. I transition them with Ms. Hurtt to the big hall for ELA tutorial. It becomes chaotic in the hallway when we intersect with other groups but we hold it down. 8th grade ELA is fun because my students like to talk – talk about the information in the packet and personal stories that are in line with it. At the end, I transition Purdue students from big hall to their homeroom.

3:30 pm – 4:25 pm

This is the last period, and I use it to reminisce the good times all day and reflect on the day. I try to make plans for the next day too. On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday I make the answer key for 8th grade math homework for Power-Up then I get ready for Power Up.

4:30 pm – 5:30 pm

The last hour! Power-Up is for homework. I help my students to complete their homework; if that does not happen they finish at home. This is smooth sailing for me.


After Power-Up, I am done; I finish some work and set on home. My day goes pretty well and the urge to see my students again is what drives me to be awake by 4:30 am. The year has been a great experience so far, I am glad I did this because it has given more than I asked for. Thank You G.O.!!!

Sam Kankam is a 2013-2014 member of the Great Oaks Tutor Corps Urban Education Fellowship in Newark, NJ. He is originally from Ghana, West Africa by way of Columbus, Ohio and is a graduate of the Ohio State University with a bachelors degree in Mathematics. Mr. Kankam aspires to become a math teacher.






Rise and grind: It’s time to start the day.


Departure/breakfast stop: If I don’t have food in my apartment, I stop at either Market City or Halsey Deli to grab breakfast to go. Dunkin Donuts is popular among the rest of the staff (and probably more affordable), but I make it a point to support the local businesses.


Arrival/prep: I arrive at Great Oaks, eat my breakfast, print out materials, pick up tutorial lessons and make copies. In order to be on time, students must arrive to school by 7:30, but many are there when I arrive. After 7, they receive breakfast and read silently in their homerooms. After I finish the above tasks, I try to read along with them whenever I get the chance.


Homework collection/teacher and student support: As one of the two 6th grade ELA TA’s, I’m responsible for collecting and grading homework. This is one of the duties that comes with being a part of the GO-NYU Teacher Residency. During this time, I collect the homework for this particular subject and grade. There are three 6th grade classes this year, so I’d separate the assignments by class. If I’m not sorting out homework, I’m supporting one of the ELA teachers with class preparation, or I’ll be assisting one of my tutorial students who never calls me at home but waits until the morning to ask for homework help. I could be doing any one of these tasks or all three on any given day.


6th grade math tutorial: I work with three bright, inquisitive and talkative scholars.


Homework check for lunch detention: Students who either didn’t submit or complete their homework in its entirety serve lunch detention. It’s the job of the TA’s to log the names of the unlucky students who have to serve this consequence and to make copies of the assignments for the students who are missing the assignments. They have the opportunity to complete the work during lunch or to submit the assignment(s) the following day for partial credit.


Morning ELA class support: The teacher I support has two ELA classes, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. During this time, I’m supporting her with classroom management and instruction. Between 25-30 students populate each class. It’s a chance for me to get hands-on experience and to observe possible methods and strategies that I may incorporate into my own teaching. As an opportunity for practical learning, my time spent in the classroom with the lead teacher reinforces what I’m learning in my classes for the residency program.


Breathe/Prep: Breathe, read e-mails, maybe eat a snack, and prep for tutorials.


Afternoon ELA class support: (See morning ELA class support above.)


7th and 6th grade ELA tutorial: These are back-to-back. For 7th grade, I work with two bright and energetic scholars.


Breathe/lunch/prep: This is the first time I’ve been outdoors since my arrival this morning. I breathe in the outside air. (We’re in a city environment, so I can’t necessarily call it “fresh air,” but it’s something.) On an average day, I’ll either get a couple of $1.50 slices of pizza from Grandma’s Kitchen, or I’ll go over to Health Food Herb Center for a veggie sandwich or wrap. If I’m feeling really good, I’ll head to Hamidah’s on Branford Place and compliment the food with a $1 hibiscus tea or Uptown (That’s lemonade and ice-tea together, which is also known as an Arnold Palmer or a “mix” if you’ve ever spent time in Washington, D.C.).


7th grade math tutorial


After school: Monday through Wednesday, we have an afterschool program called Power Up in which we provide additional tutoring, helping students with their homework. I work with 3-4 scholars.


Officially off the clock, but work still isn’t over: As soon as all of my Power Up students are gone from the building, you can say I’m “officially” off the clock, but my work doesn’t end. Sometimes, I stay later to make copies for the next day, spend time with any students who still may be in the building or complete my daily survey, but I usually complete the latter at home.

Around this time on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the teacher residents are working diligently to complete their lesson plans for Saturday Academy by the 8pm deadline. We submit the rough drafts of our lesson plans and materials on Tuesdays, and we submit the final versions on Thursdays. Two residents are assigned to a grade level for Saturday Academy. We work together to craft our lesson plans and materials, but one resident leads the teaching, and we alternate teaching every week. In an effort to expose us to a different atmosphere, we’re assigned to grades that we normally don’t work with. For instance, I’m a TA for 6th grade, but I teach 9th grade for Saturday Academy. Anyway, Tuesday and Thursday nights, prior to 8pm, can be hectic to say the least.


No, it’s still not over yet. I can’t keep time stamps for these activities, so here’s short a list:

–          Dinner (either prepared or take out from Subway, Market City, Mecca or Medina Muslim Halal)

–          Breathe

–          Call parents/one of my 6th graders calls me for homework help

–          Grade homework and/or Exit Tickets

–          Do homework for Teacher Residency or complete lesson plans for my Saturday student teaching session: In addition to our lesson planning, we also have assignments to complete for either our online sessions or our in-person sessions on Fridays and Saturdays. During the first semester, our online assignments would be due on Friday nights. Currently for the second semester, we sometimes have assignments due on Wednesdays.

–          Create tutorial packets/lessons: As a TA, I’m also responsible for working with the other 6th grade TA to generate the packets for tutorial. Tutorial lessons reinforce what the students are learning in class at the time. The goal for creating tutorial packets is to have them complete a week in advance.

–          Clean/maintain the apartment

12:00am (ideally):

Now, I’m off the clock.

–          Leisurely reading time to detoxify my mind of all of the electronic and information overload consumed throughout the day

–          zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

My days are long and packed, but the experience I’m gaining at Great Oaks is invaluable!

Mr. Westbrooks is 2013-2014 member of the Great Oaks Tutor Corps Urban Education Fellowship in Newark. He is from Neptune, NJ and is a graduate of Howard University in Washington, D.C. with a degree in broadcast journalism and a minor in African-American Studies. After his service year at Great Oaks, Mr. Westbrooks will continue his service in Newark teaching ELA at a middle school in the city while completing his master’s degree in secondary English education.