Andrew B. Campbell Ph.D. is a Jamaican-born educator based in Canada. He has lectured in institutions like Queen’s University, and Durham College, and is currently an assistant professor at the University of Toronto.
Andrew has a Ph.D. in Leadership, Policy, and Diversity from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto and has sat on different boards advocating for human rights across different organizations.
Andrew b. campbell’s story
Thank you so much for doing this with me, Andrew. I will ask you the same first question we ask everybody: who are you besides all the accolades?
I am a Jamaican by birth. I am a son of a nurse’s assistant and a taxi man. I grew up and went to school in Jamaica. I went to college in Jamaica and started my teaching career in Jamaica. So, I am Jamaican to the bone because I stayed connected to Jamaica. Though I live in Canada, I go home maybe twice or thrice a year because I am very connected to the soil and Jamaica still feels like home after being away for over 20 years. I am also someone who believes in the work that I do (advocacy). I believed in advocacy long before I understood what advocacy was. I am always seeing myself as that big brother, that uncle, that best friend, that person you can run to, who will speak up with you and on your behalf.
I’m also a person who is very connected to my heart, my emotions, and my life. I call myself a liver because I love to live and I know I live my best life. My best life is the life am living now and that is important because I think a lot of us use the term “best life” as the fabulous parts of our lives. And for me, the best life is the life we live now, which is all the parts of our lives as people. So, that’s who Andrew Campbell is. I am a brother, a friend, a son, an uncle, a godfather, a confidant, and a bestie. I am a lot of things to a lot of people and a lot of things to myself.
I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. I think from as early as age four, I wanted to be a teacher. I remember when I was in Basic school or what we now call Kindergarten, Mrs. Russell Basic School precisely, I wanted to be like Mrs. Russell. I wanted to be in charge of the class. I wanted to go to the front of the class and speak. I guess that’s what teachers do right? So, I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, and going into grade one at the age of six, I was inspired by my teacher, Mrs. Smikle. I’ve always had teachers from a young age who were great examples.
And I saw teachers as powerful. I don’t know how people see teachers today, but at that age, I saw teachers as maybe the most powerful people in the world. They were in charge of an entire classroom. They get to decide what we learn, and how we learn. They get to decide, the level of joy that happens in the classroom. I don’t think a lot of people realize how powerful educators are. I don’t think a lot of educators even realize how powerful they are.
You get to set the level of joy that your students experience. You get to decide the level of learning that takes place. You get to decide how safe your classroom is. You get to decide how welcoming that space is. You get to decide how much those students are motivated and inspired. You really get to decide how much of the world and at what level and spaces you expose those students to. So, I’ve always admired the power of teachers, and educators.
And I guess I wanted to be a powerful person. So, that’s just the greatest profession you could go into to impact people.
Yeah, that is so true. Teachers are the most powerful people on earth because they train all of us. So, what are some of the highs and lows in your teaching career?
Let me start with the lows so that we can end this conversation on a high note.
Some of the lows are:
- my early years of struggling to have a career, and the financial struggle that comes with it. I share my educational journey with people to encourage and motivate them. I sent myself to school whiles working. So, all my studies were done part-time whiles working full-time. I’ve been working since 17 and some people may consider that a high but for me, it was one of those low moments. I remember struggling and thinking strategically about how to pay for my school fees. These moments can be considered both high and low seasons of my life. However, I want to center it as low because it was tough for me. I wish I had opportunities. I wish I had scholarships. I wish I had a rich mom and a rich dad or a privileged family to send me to school but that wasn’t the case.
- Another low for me was how I had to navigate my sexuality as a teacher in Jamaica. And in Jamaica, there’s a stereotype about being gay and pedophilia. Many people considered gay persons as nasty human beings who molest children. And so part of my low was knowing my sexuality and navigating being a teacher. Something was hanging over my head that created lots of anxiety and tension for me as a gay teacher like steering between my sexuality and proving to society that I am a person of integrity with moral standing and respect. So, fighting that, and the constant policing of myself was low. There were days when I had to police myself so much because I know I have been scrutinized, watched, and surveilled as an educator or teacher, which sucked the joy out of me.
Let me slip now into the highs:
- I migrated to Canada as a Skilled Labourer and was able to save enough money to begin my Ph.D. studies.
- I was awarded the teacher of the year in my first year in the Bahamas.
- I was honored with so many awards as a dance teacher and choreographer in the Bahamas.
- I received emails and letters from my students not just in elementary school, but also from university and college students who shared their wins with me and reminded me of the role I played in their lives.
- I had the opportunity to sharpen my skill as an educator. I’m a constant learner and I am always adding to my toolbox. So, that’s a high for me as well.
- Award for Excellence in Initial Teacher Education
The University of Toronto, OISE, 2021-2022 Teaching Excellence Awards.
** Presented at an online ceremony on April 12th, 2022.
- Distinguish African Caribbean Award 2021 (THE GOWN)
African Alumni Association, University of Toronto.
** presented at a ceremony at Massey Hall on April 8th, 2021.
- CHAMPION EDUCATOR AWARD
ONABSE (Ontario Alliance of Black School Educators).
** Presented at the ONABSE conference last year – June 8th, 2021.
These are all highs in my career.
What keeps you out of bed to do what you do daily?
I have recently committed to the notion that I am my ancestor’s wildest dream. I get very emotional when I say that because when I think about my ancestor’s dream, it’s not just, oh, my God, I’m fabulous living a fabulous life, but it’s also the fights that I’ve been a part of. It’s also the work that I do in equity, advocacy, and racial justice. It’s also the space that I take up. It’s also from me sitting at the table and pulling out the chair and saying what I need to say. It’s showing up in the community. It’s also asking myself if I am doing what am supposed to be doing. And I’m very intentional about questioning myself. The notion of being my ancestor’s wildest dreams literally gets me out of bed.
Wow. Thank you so much, Andrew for your time today.