Sandy Spring Friends School



5 Facts You Won’t Find on the Resumé of Donté Tates, SSFS’s New English Department Head

5 Facts You Won’t Find on the Resumé of Donté Tates, SSFS’s New English Department Head

Last summer, Donté Tates began leading SSFS’s Middle and Upper School English Department. An educator since 2005, most recently Chair of the English Department at Westover School in Connecticut, he felt like he was coming full circle, having taught at a school in nearby Hyattsville early on in his career. By all accounts, he has found a welcoming home on campus, and has been struck by how, deeply grounded in its Quaker values, the school “sees the light in everyone.” Below, a few off-the-resumé insights into his life, past experiences, and what he looks forward to sharing with the SSFS community.   

Quakerism is new to him; but its tenets resonate.
Born and raised in Baltimore, Donté has experience as both a Catholic high school student and teacher. “I will always be a Catholic school boy who became a Catholic school teacher at my core,” he says. 

But SSFS’s Quaker traditions did not deter him. In fact, its foundational principles—silence, stillness, and togetherness—are what drew him in, stoking his curiosity. And a mere seven months after arriving on campus, the School’s commitment to these principles is what he has grown to love about the community. In part, that’s because Quakerism dovetails with his own philosophy and interests, which include inclusivity, peaceability, and conflict resolution. He wants to challenge his students to wrestle with these types of complex ideas in the same way he has.

Donte Tates - Photo and Quote

“I appreciate that Quakerism offers a robust sense of redemption, forgiveness, and the promise of becoming, every day—the goal isn’t peace itself, but the peaceful resolution of conflict,” he says. “My work is ultimately to help students see that if they self-regulate to figure out their own logic, argument, and reasoning, that’s the first step to transforming any conflict.”  

Actively applying these lessons of “conflict transformation”—to use his words—to the classroom, Donté has launched two new initiatives: A virtual exchange with a school in Cairo as well as a collaboration with actor-educators from Beyond the Page. More to come on both in a future article!

Among his former students: Three professional Black athletes. 
Following his first teaching position at Our Lady of Good Counsel—coincidentally, just two miles from SSFS—Donté moved to DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville. An all-boys Catholic school, it is known for its music and athletic programs and for “helping athletes to actualize their dreams,” he says. 

His five years at DeMatha—a school struggling to balance its Catholic identity with a desire for inclusiveness—were foundational to his career. “I enjoyed working with the Black Student Union and really invested in supporting the Black students at the school,” he says. Three NBA and NFL athletes were among those students: Victor Oladipo, a guard for the Memphis Grizzlies, as well as Cyrus Kouandjio (a former Buffalo Bills offensive tackle) and his older brother Arie (a former Washington Commanders guard).

The pandemic almost sidelined his first leadership role. 
After eight years as a Catholic school educator, Donté was ready to branch out. “I want to go independent,” he remembers thinking. “My little rogue spirit needs it.” After three years as an English teacher at The Potomac School and another five as a multidisciplinary humanities teacher at Maret School in Washington, D.C., he was ready for a leadership role. Westover School in Middlebury, Connecticut, came calling. But only with a teaching position at first. 

“We had some back and forth, and in the meantime, there was something going on that people were whispering about—something that could make us sick and might keep us home from school for a while,” he recalls. “I told them, thanks for reaching out to me, but I’m just going to sign my contract here at Maret and stay put this year.” 

In March 2020, just as the spread of COVID-19 began necessitating school shutdowns around the nation, Westover invited him to head their English Department. It was a role he couldn't refuse. Five months later, he took over the reins and continued to lead throughout the pandemic. Navigating through challenging times, he successfully established a humanities program, enriching the academic curriculum.

He is the author of a five-part poem called “Blessed Be the Beloved Barn.” 
For the last three summers, in lieu of quiet time at the beach or travel excursions not possible during the school year, Donté has headed north, to Vermont. There, stuffed into small cabins nestled in the Green Mountains, with fellow students, some writers and publishers, and renowned professors, he has immersed himself in the literary canon, oral and community histories, rhetoric, autoethnographies, and more, in pursuit of a master’s degree at Middlebury College’s prestigious Bread Loaf School of English (his undergraduate degree is in American Studies and English from Colby College, in Waterville, Maine). “What I love most is being a lifelong learner,” Donté explains, and the convenient, five-year summer program allows him to “fully focus on being a teacher during the school year and be a completely devoted student in the summer.”

As part of an assignment last summer, while steeped in the historical fiction of Toni Morrison and his own research into the historical arc of racial violence and conflict, “Blessed Be the Beloved Barn,” was born. Paired with curated archival images, the poem was his way of depicting how racial tensions have played out not simply in the past, but in the present day. 

He wants students to learn how to read the world.
As an inquisitive, ardent student in his own right, Donté naturally takes an expansive, multidisciplinary approach to his teaching. The strong pedagogical foundation of SSFS’s English Department immediately excited him. In fact, it’s what drove his curiosity and desire to become part of the community, he says. 

Top of mind for him is to design a clear through line for students in Grades 6 through 12, so their learning experiences “are meaningfully different and developmentally appropriate yet produce a wise, thinking individual who is capable of taking on and reading not just a book, poem, or play, but the world—a world that isn’t strictly disciplined one way or the other.” 

That may sound like a tall order, but Donté—on campus for less than a year—is already struck by the ability and the humanity of SSFS students. “I appreciate how quirky and how real they are, how they like to laugh and experience joy,” he observes. “Even when we don’t agree, there’s a willingness to see each other deeply; there is trust.” 

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