It’s never a good idea to meddle in someone else’s family, but after spending a delightful evening with four of the Flemming siblings, I found myself eager to offer some advice to the fifth:
Resistance is (probably) futile.
Camille, 30, conceded that she, too, once resisted joining the family business, and now here she is, weeks into her first year at Waring Elementary School, where she teaches second grade. It’s all new, but already she sounds like someone who’s found her calling.
The collective calling that started when the eldest, Stephen Flemming, who turns 38 in March, used to play teacher as a kid. His mom, Jackie, affectionately recalled him pleading with her to bring his siblings inside one summer day so he could try out a lesson plan.
And rounding up #TeamFlemming is Michael, 37. A teacher for five years now, he teaches social studies at Kenderton Elementary and exudes the Flemming family brand: dedication, passion, and an infectious enthusiasm for teaching, sure, but also for adding to the ranks of much-needed black teachers. In Philadelphia, according to the district’s data, about 25% of the teachers are African American. That’s better than other school systems, but still not great in a district where nearly all students are of color.
“It’s official,” Stephen announced on Twitter in January. “4 Flemming siblings, count ‘em 4 now teachers in #phled. Baby sis joined the #FlemTeachingGang.”
The fifth sibling I mentioned above, Ryan, posted his own message on Facebook:
“I will not and I repeat … I will not be teaching anytime soon if at all.” Ryan, 25, is a teller at a credit union.
His siblings laughed, boosted by what they viewed as a crack in his conviction that they plan — as any self-respecting sibling would — to hold over him until he gives. “Anytime soon” isn’t never, they pointed out.
Education in the Flemming household, led by mom Jackie, an accountant, and dad Stephen, who does maintenance, was always more expectation than goal. The siblings all went to Philadelphia’s public schools, and they regularly attended church, where to the surprise of no one who knew him, the eldest Flemming started a summer camp when he was just a teen.
The love is obvious among the siblings, as is the respect each has for the others’ talents in the classroom. There is a legacy in the making here.
“I want our students to look back and think, ‘I had a Flemming who loved and cared for me, who showed tough love, was tough on me, and I might not have liked it at the time, but now I see why, and I appreciate it,'” Stephen said.
Leslie, I concluded after spending time with the crew, is the mama bear of the bunch, as tough as she is protective of her siblings, and students. “One of the things we try to do is see past what society sees in our children,” she said.
Michael — to keep the bear analogy going for another beat — is a teddy bear who consistently shows up for his students, in and out of the classroom. Camille, the freshman teacher, will no doubt roar in her own way soon enough.
Not surprising, they’ve all taken more than a couple of cues from Stephen, who long ago came up with a classroom motto that they share in their own classrooms. “Success is my only option. Failure is not an option. In order to be successful, I must work hard. No excuses. No excuses. No excuses.”
“It’s about showing them that I believe in their ability to become whatever they dream,” he said.
Along with the cards from students he carries in a bag are a few programs for funerals of former students — a gut-wrenching reminder of how much some of their students are up against.