Paideia Tribune

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How Good Educators Get Stuck

2018-11-20 Clara ThigpenINTELLECTUAL

MEET THE PRINCIPAL, Educations’ Heartbeat – As an educator, I had no clue so many students, parents and teachers would impact and change my life.

I can remember being a student at Ball State University in the education department.

I knew for certain that once I graduated, I wanted to work at a school located in an inner city/urban environment!

My dream was deferred when I was asked by the Department Head at Ball State University to apply for a teaching position with South Bend Community Schools.

They were in dire need of African-American teachers and I appeared to be the “best” candidate.

I couldn’t put the University down that granted me a graduate assistantship for my masters degree.

I was their poster child.

I was highlighted on a brochure that would go all over the country to inspire African-Americans to become teachers.

Didn’t I owe them something?

Well, I applied for the teaching position in South Bend, and was hired as a first year teacher at Swanson Highlands Elementary located in a beautiful neighborhood.

I was one of two African-American teachers at the school. In fact, there had to be at least two of us, according to a rule at that time.

While I did not want to teach at this school, I knew I could do it for one year—and I did! In that year, I loved my students and learned a lot about who I was as an educator.

Even though, it wasn’t my first choice, it was necessary for my journey.

The next year, I moved back to Gary, Indiana!

I was excited to serve the children from my hometown.

While in Gary, I worked nearly 20 years in many different capacities.

I taught high achieving students in a gifted program.

I continued by education at Indiana University and returned to the classroom to teach special needs students.

I was an administrator at an all-boys academy located across the parking lot from a government housing development!

This was probably one of my most rewarding experiences, because I lived in a housing project growing up and I wanted to give back!

I even served as a Christian school principal.

Every experience brought new victories and challenges and even more questions about my existence in the education arena.

Fast forward to today, I am leading a rural school. How did I find myself here?

I’ll never forget my first drive to Coolidge—it was like nothing I had seen before! I make it very clear—I am a city girl—and this land has no lights!

It was so different—dry, full of cacti, few houses in sight, and lacked luster—but for some reason, I could still see beauty!

When I arrived at my school the first day, I only saw one other staff member who looked like me. Here we go again—am I having de’ja vu?

As I walked down the halls and I began to meet the people- little and big ones, I’d realized that I was where I was supposed to be!

The children at this school—though they may look different from the children in Gary, it was evident early on that some of their needs were no different.

Many of them have seen drug abuse, lived with a grandparent, were placed in foster care, experienced lack of food, have close relatives in the nearby prison—you name it.

I had convinced myself that America had done a great job hiding the face of rural children. I had no clue that schools existed outside the “hood” in America with such great need.

Or was it me?

Had I hid myself because of my desire to teach/lead a specific group because they looked like me?

From my experiences at Ball State, and my first teaching experience, to my work in Gary, Indiana—I’ve had to learn to trust the process.

My “why” is so much greater now!

I am free from the belief that I only need/want to serve a specific group in education—the bottom line is this—All students need great educators to lead and guide them!

If you are an educator reading this, and you’ve only taught in one demographic area or with one specific ethnic or socioeconomic group, I challenge you to step out of your comfort zone!

Don’t let what you’re used to cripple the impact you can have on so many children!

Take that drive through the desert, to the suburb, or maybe to the city—find a new “why” and begin to not only change your narrative—change somebody else’s!