My parents separated when I was very young. As a result, I went from attending a very involved private school to abruptly switching to public school. Distraught about leaving all of my friends, I remember the long walk to the huge elementary school on the hill. I couldn’t understand why we were walking to school at night and better yet, walking into the principal’s office. As I sat in the principal’s office, I stared around the table listening to my mother and grandmother be briefed on the school’s culture. What did not make sense then, makes my heart smile now. This one experience was the start of a wonderful school journey. Daily, I witnessed teachers go over and beyond the call of duty. Our P.E. teacher had even risked his life to save two students that had been struck by a car. Although I was a child, I was increasingly aware of how dedicated the educators were around me. This made me want to learn even more, rather than give up when things got hard, and it made me feel loved.
With this in mind, I was fearful of attending middle school. I was not certain that I would have another lovable, reliable educational support system. Unfortunately, my transition to middle school was not as smooth as my previous experience. I attended several middle schools, and this hands off, minimal maintenance almost threw me off track. I did not have time to develop a deep relationship with my peers or educators. In fact, many of my middle school teachers simply taught a lesson and went on with their day. There was no personal relationship or rapport built. It often seemed that no matter how hard I worked, my hard work still went unnoticed. Instead of being built up by the educators in my life, I was torn down. It was in the 7th grade that I learned that teachers could be cruel, even crueler than students. While earning an award, to my surprise I overheard my 7th grade Math teacher say “I don’t see how Candace made it” and shockingly, a fellow classmate came to my defense. This still sticks with me and has propelled me into my future. Education has always been the key out of my environment and was my escape while remaining in it. Middle school taught me that not all teachers act with their students’ best interest at heart. Now that I am an educator myself, I have witnessed first-hand how the words that we teachers speak have the potential to stick with our students and discourage or encourage them long after they leave our classrooms. To me that is invaluable. As an educator I am very cautious to use my words to build students up and never to break them down, as I was once broken down by my teacher.
Similar to my middle school experience, high school was terrifying at the beginning. Each six weeks I took home a perfect report card, but the terror never eased up. Leaving class I would often be held behind by teachers asking me about my plans for the future. Suddenly I would be at a loss for words. Private notes written on my work left me perplexed, as it was yet another reminder of the possibility of wasted talent. I remember passing the guidance counselor in the hallway and being told to be sure to stop by her office later. That day was the birth of my college aspirations. Until then, I didn’t feel that college was for me, not because of academics, but for financial reasons. Thankfully I received help with scholarships, gained encouragement, and even had a teacher help me complete my FAFSA. Without this type of assistance, I may not have gone straight to college. I was very blessed to become a first generation college student and continue my passion for education.
As I enter my classroom each day, I strive to make each day special for my students. Teaching is a profession that can often be thankless. We often pour so much into our students and do not get the opportunity to really see our full investment. I did however, receive the opportunity to reconnect with those critical educators that touched my life and express my gratitude. It is my hope that I am able to use my current educational journey to inspire change in others and give them the educational keys needed to create a platform for success.
Candace Hines has taught Kindergarten for the last 6 years. She has served as an Early Childhood and Regional Presenter, training teachers all across the district. Candace is currently a Learning Coach and a facilitator for Teach Plus Memphis, leading their Teacher-Led Professional Learning Network. Candace graduated as a member of Phi Kappa Phi Honors Society from The University of Memphis, with a Bachelor’s of Science in Education. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.