Tom Bloch
Founder, the University Academy

Tom Bloch on Success as a Teacher

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Tom Bloch says the attrition rate is high for educators who are just starting out in urban schools, but, if they show respect, they will receive respect.

Tom Bloch

In 1976, Tom Bloch joined H&R Block, the world's largest tax services provider, where his father was CEO. In 1981, after introducing automation to the company's office network, he was elected President of the Tax Operations. Later, he oversaw the company's innovative practice of filing tax returns electronically to the IRS, which revolutionized the industry. Bloch was promoted to President of the corporation in 1989 and CEO in 1992. His second career began in 1995 as a middle school math teacher at St. Francis Xavier, an inner city parochial school. Five years later, he co-founded the University Academy, a public charter school in Kansas City. Bloch continues to teach 7th and 8th grade math at the urban college prep school he helped design and launch. He is also President of the school's board. The Academy has grown from 200 students in grades seven through nine in its first year to over 1,000 students in kindergarten through grade twelve. The school moved into a new, $40 million facility in 2005, and it became the first school in Missouri to receive a ten-year extension of its charter. Over the last five years, all but two graduates of the Academy have gone on to attend college, an almost unheard-of success rate for an urban school. Bloch is the author of Stand for the Best, a memoir about his journey from CEO to inner city teacher and school founder. He graduated cum laude in 1976 from Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California.


Tom Bloch: I would say that in an urban setting, a teacher has to recognize that they may not get a whole lot of respect from students, and that for me was a very difficult eye-opener, because I came from an environment where I got lots of respect as a CEO, working with highly-motivated people who wanted to get ahead, and suddenly I was in a classroom, where I was working with students who often didn’t see themselves as even having a future, and so why should they invest their time and effort in their education if there is no real future for them?

And so dealing with an apathetic or a disrespectful student, I think, is a bit more common in the urban core than you would find in a suburban school. And one of the things I learned, and it took me quite a while to learn this is how does a teacher teach respect? And I finally figured it out, it is to show respect. If you show a kid enough respect, sooner or later that child will start showing you respect.

About half of all new urban teachers leave within three years. It’s a very scary statistic. It suggests to me two things. One is it’s a very difficult environment in which to succeed, number 1. And number 2, it suggests that we’re not doing an adequate job preparing young teachers for this environment. So I think, as long as people understand the challenges that they’re going to encounter as a teacher in the urban core and can prepare themselves for that, they can succeed. And once you get it, once you figure out how to be successful, it is a terribly satisfying profession.


Recorded on: October 13, 2008