In 2003, I decided that I wanted to go into school administration. I applied to the University of Southern Mississippi. My application to the University of Southern Mississippi was denied twice. On the second denial, I called the University of Southern Mississippi and was put in touch with Dr. Peters. I asked him what could I do to get into their Master’s program. Dr. Peters stated, “Melissa, I am looking at your Vita, and you are not engaged in any leadership activities outside your classroom walls.” When I thought about it, Dr. Peters was right. I wanted to be a leader, but I felt safe within my classroom and I was not doing anything additional for my students, school, or community.
Because of my conversation with Dr. Petters, I put the Master’s program on hold, and I began to work on the National Board Certification Process. National Board would force me into informal and formal leadership roles in and outside my classroom. Also, it would add value to my classroom instruction. I did not accomplish National Board Certification the first time, missing it by only several points. The entries that challenged me the most were Science integrated with Math and, on my second attempt, I decided to call science institutes and read websites to understand how to get my students engaged in science integrated with math. I also continued to work on my leadership skills, so I could improve. I accomplished National Board Certification the second time around in Early Childhood Education.
Later, I applied for graduate school again at the University of Southern Mississippi. During the phone interview, I was praised for successfully completing the National Board Certification process, and they were impressed with my Vita. Although I increased my leadership capacity, they wanted me to retake my GRE. I agreed, but I knew that I needed support. After school I would tutor with Mr. Otis, our school’s 8th grade Algebra teacher. After retaking the test, I was delighted to see my scores went up by several points. I immediately called the University of Southern Mississippi, and I received an informal confirmation by phone that I would be selected for the Master’s program. It was my third try. That following summer, I left my son with my family to travel 4-5 hours to Hattiesburg, Mississippi on the weekends. There were only 2 African American women in the class of about 25. I was afraid, but I faced my fears and I gave my best effort. I received my Master’s in 2007. After this experience, I decided to pursue additional degrees and I received my Specialist Degree in 2008 and my PhD in 2010.
Often, I think about my journey to leadership, and my eyes begin to tear up because it was not an easy road. I had to face my fears, take rejection, and push myself to do and learn more. I learned to go for my dreams and not be afraid to fail or hear no. As I persevered, I began to push and support my students and other educators. I became a teacher leader who decided to stay in the classroom when I was on a path of leaving. Quickly, I learned my students are my fuel, and I am their fire.
Melissa Collins is a second grade teacher at John P. Freeman Optional School with Shelby County School District in Memphis. She has been teaching for 17 years. To help ensure that all children have access to a caring and committed teacher, she has mentored several teachers through the National Board Certified Teacher process. She has received the Horace Mann Teacher Excellence Award, Presidential Award for Excellence Mathematics and Science Teaching and West Tennessee Teacher of the Year. She received her Bachelor of Science in Early Elementary from Murray State, and Master, Specialist and Doctorate (Ph.D.) of Education in Administration from the University of Southern Mississippi. 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.