Sitting in his third-grade classroom, Erle Ladson, Jr., M.Ed., GSE ’23, dreamed of his future as a teacher, NFL player, and chef. In the evenings at home, his mother, who grew up in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands and moved to the United States as a teenager, would instill in him the importance of education. And Erle always wanted to do well for his mother.
Ladson describes his middle school years at Mott Hall III in the Bronx as a transformative time. Under the tutelage of two particular teachers, he began laying the groundwork for who he would become as an adult.
First, Ladson thanks Wade Hanley, his former social studies teacher who is currently a history educator and administrator at Atmosphere Academy Public Charter Schools, for providing a safe place which helped him navigate the trials and tribulations of adolescence. Hanley fostered Ladson’s love for history and social studies, pushing him to always dig deeper, search for more, and never settle; according to Ladson. Hanley actively encouraged students to find and express themselves in the classroom, Ladson also thanks Kathryn Malloy, his former English teacher and now a principal at Mott Hall High School, for inspiring him. She developed his love of reading and taught him how to express himself on paper, Ladson said.
Ladson’s efforts over the years, in the classroom and on the field, paid off. In the spring of 2007, Cardinal Hayes High School recruited Ladson and offered him 50% off tuition based on his academic and athletic merit. Both his father and grandfather were graduates of this stellar institution, and he eagerly accepted the offer.
While at Cardinal Hayes, Ladson continued to immerse himself in his studies as well as his training as a football player. He was an honor student, Boy Scout, and a star athlete who was named captain for the Cardinal Hayes football and basketball teams. Ladson’s work ethic paid off when the University of Delaware came calling in 2009, offering him a full scholarship for his academic and athletic abilities.
Enrolling at the university as a student athlete presented both opportunities and anguish. Ladson still held onto his third-grade dream to be a teacher, and he began his studies as a double major in history and education. Ladson soon learned that continuing to play football made it impossible for him to arrange his schedule to complete the required 20 hours of classroom time needed to be a teacher, so he decided to focus only on history. Still, teaching was always his plan.
In Ladson’s words, “Leaving college teaching was Plan A, anything else would be Plan B.”
Upon graduation, Ladson applied to the Teach for America program, but wasn’t accepted. As fate would have it, the Oakland Raiders came calling and signed him as an offensive lineman, giving him the opportunity to fulfill his second dream of being an NFL football player. After a stint with Raiders, Ladson signed with the Cleveland Browns. When he started questioning his NFL career, Ladson recalled the words of his Cardinal Hayes High School principal William Lessa, who told him the day he hung up his cleats that there would be a place for him at Cardinal Hayes as a teacher and coach. After further contemplating his future, Ladson made the call. It was the first and only call he made to pivot back to his first dream of becoming a teacher.
“Education changes lives. And I wanted to give that back,” said Ladson.
At the time there was no full-time teaching position at Cardinal Hayes, so Ladson started there as a permanent substitute. He then became a special education teacher for three months, which he says helped shape him both as a person and as a teacher. This was followed by some time as a science teacher before a full-time position opened in the history department.
When observing Ladson’s teaching, Principal Lessa recognized that he had a good command of the classroom. Lessa also noted that Ladson connected with the students as a coach both on and off the field, and is a teacher who demands the most from his students, all the while showing them love.
Jane Bolgatz, Ph.D., GSE associate professor, said of Ladson, “Erle embodies the Fordham values of cura personalis and social justice. From the minute he walked into my classroom, he was insightful, curious, and compassionate. He always asked great questions and was willing to experiment to find better solutions for his students. I have a great deal of respect for Erle as a person and as an educator, and I look forward to seeing his career blossom.”
Ladson’s sister Aisha Crichlow, who is also an educator, explains, “Erle is charismatic, passionate, creative, and empathic. All great qualities for a teacher.”
Reflecting on Fordham, Ladson says he chose Fordham because Fordham chose him. As a teacher in NYC, he appreciates the flexibility the program offered and how it has supported him to better himself as an instructor and Jesuit educator. Also, the support from his advisors and the program have helped him overcome any obstacles he encountered.
Ladson says his third dream of being a chef is still in the making.
More on Erle Ladson, Jr., M.Ed.
Outside influence: I wouldn’t be where I am without Jane Bolgatz, Ph.D., associate professor of social studies education in the Division of Curriculum and Teaching at Fordham University Graduate School of Education. She pushes the envelope, pushes her students, pushes boundaries.
Family influence: My mother, who instilled the importance of education and being a good student, was my greatest family influence. My sister, Aisha Crichlow, is also a teacher and was also a significant influence.
Advice about teaching: Ask: What’s your why? Don’t teach for money, but for the fulfillment.
Looking out for his inner child: I believe in giving back to the job with passion. If you don’t have the passion, it will eat you up.
On Cardinal Hayes High School: The school is a change agent. You will be rewarded if you go there. I want to give back to the community that did so much for me.
– Tanya Hunt provided editing for this story.