By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
John Plump could have been a professional opera singer but he chose education instead.
Plump, assistant principal at P.D. Jackson Olin High School, grew up in Birmingham and attended college on a contemporary opera scholarship.
How does a kid from Birmingham get into the opera?
“My mother is a retired music teacher and my grandfather was a singer,” Plump said. “So, I think I got the talent genetically and throughout my high school years, and singing in the home, I did a lot of singing in the concert choir in high school.”
When he got to college Plump said he did voice lessons along with his scholarship in classical music.
“I didn’t pursue classical music professionally, but I still took voice lessons and I still made it part of who I am,” he said. “So, a lot of times when I speak at places I will sing if it’s appropriate, and that’s how I continue it,” he said.
“But just growing up singing and having exposure and experiences with singing hymns and spirituals and classical music in the home and that being cultivated through my high school and college years” got me into it, he said.
Asked his proudest performance, he said the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, “A Tribute to the Negro Spiritual” in 2013.
“History chronicles the fact that the Negro spiritual is considered to be the foundation of all African-American music and the Negro spiritual was such a profound phase of classical music that it actually made it to the concert stage,” Plump said. “So even today opera singers perform Negro spirituals and make it a quality art form.”
Plump attended Alcorn State University on a choral music scholarship but during his sophomore year, did a self-evaluation and knew he wanted to be in education.
“When you’re real serious about impacting people’s lives and when you’re real serious about taking what you do well and you’re able to be an example for young people, that’s usually the passion why you want to become a teacher and that was actually my passion,” he said.
In summer school in 1986 Plump said it dawned on him that it was time to really pursue his passion as a career.
“I thought about my skillset and the things that I did well and I was always good at communication and interpreting historical facts and so I thought I would be an asset to the school system as a history teacher . . . and it just flew forward from that point on,” he said.
Plump received his bachelor’s degree in social science education and a master’s degree in secondary education from Alcorn.
Becoming an educator allowed him to join his family’s profession. His mother was a school teacher, his grandparents were school teachers and his great grandfather was a superintendent in Sumter County. He also has a nephew who teaches at Restoration Academy and his brother who passed away was a Physical Education teacher at Huffman High School.
Plump knows the challenges of education. He began teaching in 1992 at Hayes Middle School as a social studies teacher. Since beginning his career, he has served in several positions including chairman of the social science department at Parker High School for nine years, principal at Kennedy Alternative School and he was acting principal at Jackson Olin before becoming assistant principal.
Education And Morality
In his 26 years in education, Plump said not much has changed.
“The challenges are a lack of a value for education, a community that fails to recognize that education and morality go together, doing the right thing and being educated are connected,” he said. “And I would say the greatest challenge is getting young people to think critically about their future and finding educators that unconditionally care about the intellectual development of young people. Those are real strong challenges.”
Plump said he his not deterred and believes in his students. He does his best to get them to think critically and let them know that someone cares.
“When I’m communicating with students in my office, I’m making sure that I’m consistent with telling them what their future should be like and what their future should look like,” he said.
Not only does Plump motivate his students to strive for greatness, but he also motivates other educators as well with his books.
Plump is the author of two books. His first, The 100 Proverbs of Urban Education was published in 2014 and his second, Pushing to Proficiency: The Teacher’s Instructional Highway, will be released in February.
The first book is a compilation of ideas on how to teach urban students and instructional and motivational strategies on how to deal with students in urban zones based upon experience as well as memoirs from former students. The second is a comprehensive assessment of strategies and techniques that give instructors an opportunity to be able to teach in an organized manner in order for students to be successful.
“I had been writing a book through my entire career and didn’t know it,” he said. “One day, my spiritual leader-the Man above- told me that you have enough ideas to start formulating your book and that’s what I did and that’s when I was able to start my book.”
Plump said it’s “gratifying” to be a published author “because it gives you an opportunity to get ideas, and points of view out of your mind and into the general spectrum of society so people can see some of the things that actually need to be happening in urban schools,” he said.
Though his books are primarily focused on how to teach students of color, Plump says his books can help any teacher with their students no matter their background.
Plump was born in Nashville, Tennessee while his father was in school at Meharry Medical College. After completing his medical degree, Plump’s father moved the family back to his native Birmingham where they lived in the Smithfield community. He is one of four brothers.
Plump attended A.H. Parker High School where he was on the varsity football and baseball teams and a member of the concert choir. He graduated in 1985. He has been married for 24 years and has two daughters.
Plump’s father worked as a medical doctor and his mother taught at Phillips High School. Growing up as the child of a schoolteacher was somewhat abnormal because everything was always corrected from his speech to his writing, he said.
“It was an experience that was valuable because it set you up for being able to master and conquer any facet of society because you came from a home that valued the importance of community, the importance of morality and the importance of doing the right thing,” he said.
Ariel Worthy contributed to this article.