Teacher of the Year tells Livingstone students teaching should be personal

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 24, 2012

By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — Teaching is personal for Tyronna Hooker, a teacher from the Alamance-Burlington school system who currently holds the state Teacher of the Year title.
She entered the profession after working at a correctional facility that housed long-term inmates.
“In most of my conversations (with the inmates) the missing piece was apparent,” she told Livingstone College students Thursday. “The fact that they couldn’t read and a teacher had exposed them.”
But it was her role as a foster mother that pushed Hooker to pursue a career in education.
In 1996, a 14-year-old boy who had been involved in an accidental shooting that killed his best friend moved in with her family.
“Upon coming to my house, everyone wanted to know what was I doing, what was I thinking, how could I bring this young man home,” she said. “But there are times in our lives when we invest in the unknown.”
Hooker said the boy cried when she enrolled him in school, fearful that the teachers would judge him based on his past.
“He said if you want to make a difference, go into the classroom and listen to their stories,” she said.
Hooker did just that.
But she wanted to make sure education was the right path for her, so she started out as a substitute. It didn’t take long for her to get hooked.
Later, she received her teaching certificate through her alma mater, North Carolina Central University.
“I need you to know that you can have all the will to be a teacher, but without the skills, there is a deficit,” she said. “Anything that is worthy of your passion is worthy of your preparation.”
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Hooker told the group of Livingstone education majors that as they prepare to enter the work force, they should be mindful of the relationships they’ll be creating.
“I’ve learned that relationships are everything,” she said. “You don’t care what I know until I know about you.”
As an exceptional children’s teacher at Graham Middle School, Hooker said she banned the word disability from her classroom.
“All of them have a learning disability, but I refuse to allow them to use the world disability in my class,” she said. “They all have learning potential because if something has potential, you treat it differently. Disability creates obstacles and you don’t have the same expectations.”
Hooker urged the student to “create the environment” they want to work in.
“I need all of you to be the variable that matters,” she said. “We can’t control their condition, we can’t control disability, we can’t control background, but we can create an atmosphere in our schools that allows students to be successful.”
Hooker told a story about a girl named Brooklyn who she met when she joined the school’s running team.
“This young lady made her way across the parking lot and she started screaming my name,” she said. “I said, ‘Please stop screaming my name; I’m right here.’
“Then she folded her cane and put it in her book bag. See Brooklyn is completely blind.”
Hooker was enlisted to be Brooklyn’s running guide for a 5K race.
“As we crossed the finish line, I began to cry because the reality of teaching began to manifest itself to me,” she said. “Because she said, ‘Mrs. Hooker, I had absolutely no idea where you were going to take me, but I trusted you to get me to the right place.’ ”
Brooklyn recently told Hooker that she has “unseen potential.”
“She said ‘people see me and see one thing, but being blind means your sight is unlimited,’” Hooker said.
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Hooker encouraged the Livingstone students to go beyond lesson plans to create “lesson designs” that cater to students with varying learning styles.
“As you create your lesson designs, place a name in your roll book, think about specific students” she said.
Junior Stephanie Boyd, an elementary education major, said Hooker’s words about lesson designs stuck with her.
“We need to have a plan, but we need to make sure that it benefits all students,” she said.
Briana Bazemore, a sophomore elementary education major, agreed.
“All students are not the same,” she said. “It’s important to design the lesson around your students, and every student plan is not going to be the same.”
Hooker told the students that teaching isn’t easy, but the commitment is worth it every single day.
“You are responsible for the condition in which your students leave. When someone asks you why do you come early, why do you stay late, why do you work so hard, you tell them it’s personal.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.
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