By Tina M. Ramos-McBride

Have you ever felt like you’re running a race a mile behind everyone at every turn, but then you blink and become a contender? You can see the cheering fans, the trophies sparkling in the sunlight, and the finish line in the distance. When you cross the finish line, you finally feel like you have arrived. You are walking in your purpose, the place where you were always meant to be. 

The Carolina Collaborative for Alternative Preparation (CarolinaCAP) pathway gives me, and others like me, a second chance to walk in our purpose every day through serving the students and families of Berkeley County School District and other partnering districts. The CarolinaCAP pathway gave me a chance at a second career working with students with disabilities as a special education teacher. I have the privilege of being one of their voices, someone who advocates and loves them. 

My childhood was everything but traditional. My family didn’t value education the way I eventually learned to value it. I didn’t start school until the age of nine, and I remember walking up to school, nervous to meet Mr. Martinez, my first principal. I could not read, write, or do basic math. 

Mr. Martinez gave me a chance (the first of many, despite where I started). He told me if I could remember the story he read to me that first day, he would start me in the second grade when I returned in two days. I was two years behind my peers, but I was beginning my beautiful journey in education. When I returned, I remembered a whole lot of that book. That moment changed the trajectory of my life and put me on the path to where I am now. 

School became my safe place, the place I loved to be. As a nine-year-old, I began to learn why education was so important — because of the amazing educators who show up for students who need them, students like me.

My education led me to a degree in counseling. I have a strong faith, and it drives me toward people labeled “different” or “challenging.” As a clinical counselor for ten years, I met and counseled some of the most remarkable adults and children I have ever known. After taking a year off, I felt called to a new purpose — to work in a school as an assistant. I prayed for next steps and eventually learned about the CarolinaCAP pathway, an answer to my prayers. My administrators recognized my potential to participate in CarolinaCAP. They believed in me until I could believe in myself again. 

I went from an assistant in the school to a licensed teacher. The CarolinaCAP pathway and its multi-tiered support made this a seamless transition.

I wouldn’t have this fulfilling new career working with my students if I had let my childhood struggles or my break from counseling overshadow this new calling placed on my heart.

I meet students every day who might not have their basic needs met. Because of CarolinaCAP, I can take care of their basic needs, teach them, and love them the way I was loved by my educators when I was a child. This year, my students grew in reading. By reaching 91% mastery of their reading skills, they improved from 13% at the beginning of the school year. I love that my classroom provides students with what they need, from reading, writing, and math strategies to a hug and a listening ear. Colleagues and administrators often comment on how warm and welcoming my classroom feels.

I take pride in my classroom environment and give my students a functional, inviting, and calm place to learn because they deserve every opportunity to be successful.

I hope my story reaches people interested in teaching who may be intimidated by the process of becoming a teacher through traditional pathways. It is worth every single exhausting day. I hope those in a first career who feel called to dream again will. I hope those who did not have a great start in life believe they, too, can be called to their purpose in education. I encourage aspiring educators to widen their perspectives and lean into this opportunity for growth and lifelong learning. I never saw myself becoming a teacher at this stage in life, changing careers, and starting from scratch, but I did, and I have no regrets. 

While teacher shortages are discouraging, the bigger picture presents a beautiful opportunity. There is room for interested candidates who want a second chance to dream again and walk in their purpose of becoming teachers. Approximately 200 CarolinaCAP teachers are in classrooms across the state right now. 

Because of CarolinaCAP and the opportunity of a second career, I no longer see myself as “behind,” like I felt when I was a child. Instead, I see myself as right on time.

I am walking in my purpose every day I walk in the classroom. It does not matter where you start or even where you end up along the journey. What matters is that we allow ourselves to dream at any age and in any season we are in. For me, it was the CarolinaCAP pathway, a route to walk in my purpose and become the special education teacher I was always meant to be.

Tina Ramos-McBride is a second-year CarolinaCAP candidate walking in her purpose in the Berkeley County School District. She has a bachelor’s degree in applied behavioral analysis and a master’s in clinical psychology from Capella University. She currently teaches K-2nd grade Special Education at Sangaree Elementary and will take on a 3rd-5th grade position in Special Education at Mt. Holly Elementary next year to continue to grow and impact the lives of those in the Berkeley County School District.

This story is published as part of a recent storytelling retreat hosted by CarolinaCrED, housed in the University of South Carolina’s College of Education. Mira Education, a CarolinaCrED partner, facilitated the retreat and provided editorial and publication support. Learn more about this work and read additional stories by following @CarolinaCrED and @miraeducation.