By YKesha Brown

I sat in my living room on September 5th, 2021, and stared into my children’s eyes as tears filled my own. I had encountered many challenges. It was time to make a change. Drying my eyes and rocking my babies to sleep, I knew giving up was not an option.

Teaching had always been my dream.

I had heard of the Carolina Collaborative of Alternative Preparation (CarolinaCAP) but never knew exactly what it was until I met Geneva. She shared that I could become a teacher while earning my certification. My mind started racing with questions: “Where do I begin the process?” and “Who do I talk to?” Then I met Kentrina Bridges, the CarolinaCAP coach for Marlboro County. We sat down to discuss what my options were, and she emailed me everything I needed to begin the process.

Unfortunately, there were no openings for teachers in the Marlboro County School District where I live. I would have to find another district. But I did not let that stop me in my tracks – because giving up was not an option. I learned that Darlington County School District was going to become a CarolinaCAP partner. Hearing this news, I knew my journey was just beginning.

I took a chance when I decided to become Darlington County School District’s first CarolinaCAP candidate. It was an honor to be hired at Southside Early Childhood Center as a 5K-Teacher. Although I was able to begin teaching, I did have to sacrifice my time. I get up every day and drive forty-five minutes to work. Most days I am in meetings and trainings until four o’clock. This has been a challenge because I love spending time with my babies, and I feel like I do not spend enough time with them. They do not yet understand that mommy is not home because she is working. But I know that I am doing what I must in order to secure a future for my children.

And I know giving up is not an option.

As I cross the threshold of my classroom every morning, I wonder what the day will bring. Will I get through the lessons I have planned for the day? Will students progress and move up a level? Will I make at least one child smile today?

When I began teaching earlier this school year, I started by getting to know my students academically and personally. As time has progressed, my students have steadily grown and improved. The doubt I once had about being a good teacher is slowly disappearing. Seeing my students grow, learn, and improve each day made me realize I have no reason to give up. Just like I am helping them learn, they are helping me learn as well.

CarolinaCAP provided an avenue for me to pursue my dreams as a teacher.

I am learning something new every week, and the assignments we receive not only give me the opportunity to rethink how I am running my classroom, but also provide me with ideas to incorporate activities for students to use. I find it useful to meet new people and hear about their experiences. These opportunities help me improve my skills as a teacher. 

So, what has kept me striving in the program despite the challenges? My dear friend Kentrina. The days when I felt like throwing in the towel, I would call Kentrina, and she would give a raw-cut conversation. On one call I cried and told her, “Kentrina, this is it for me; I cannot do this anymore. Nothing I do is right, and I am over it at this point.” She offered a safe space for me to vent. Then Kentrina spoke politely and said, “No ma’am, you will not quit. Quitting is not even an option for you. You have come a long way, and your children are depending on you.” She was honest with me and reminded me why I began the program in the first place. Her encouraging words will always be appreciated. I find it easier to persevere and not give up because of Kentrina’s support.

I am also currently receiving one-on-one training from a literacy and CarolinaCAP coach, Beth Hall-Caulder. The training is intensive, but I will benefit from everything I am learning. It will allow me to walk on my own and teach with confidence. I have to give credit to Beth for all she has done for me since I began my career. Although she and I did not understand each other at first, we later shared moments of tears and joy. I respect her as a person and professional.

My co-teacher, Lana Faile, an experienced educator of 28 years, provides another pillar of support. We brainstorm different ideas to incorporate into our daily lessons. She has been my in-class mentor and motivates me daily to never give up. She reminds me often, “Always be a duck,” or in other words, a hard worker striving to do our best and letting negativity roll off our backs. I embrace every day because I am able to learn with my students and co-teacher.

Having these support systems has made the difference for me. At times I felt overwhelmed, needed to cry, felt lost, or did not know which way to go. But I always had these wonderful women to guide and support me.

I truly believe all teachers need a support system.

I do not regret the help I have, nor do I take it for granted. I am extremely blessed, and this has made it much easier for me not to give up.

Since beginning my career as a teacher, I have been named Feature Teacher of the Month for my school. I was honored to receive this recognition because it let me know that I was not working in vain. Since I have been working with my students, I have seen improvements in their writing, and in their letter and word knowledge. When I first started, I had no idea how I was going to get my students where they needed to be. I began to pull students individually and work with them. These efforts are resulting in both academic and social-emotional growth in my students.

When I first started this journey, I felt scared and incapable of teaching. Although I have been working with children for many years, becoming a teacher is a different experience. I am excited about what is ahead of me in my career. I still ask myself every day, What kind of example would I be to my students if I gave up? When you become a teacher, you must lead by example. That is why I am striving for what I want, and I will not give up.

YKesha Brown has been working with children since the age of eighteen. Her dream to become a teacher began at Southside Early Childhood Center. She is a first-year teacher working in Darlington County School District and a candidate in the CarolinaCAP program.