by Rashard Burrows

Since primary school, teachers have told us to take initiative and be leaders rather than followers. When transitioning in a line, we were told, “Follow the leader.” But when the choice is our own, how do we decide when to take the lead and when to follow?

My journey to the classroom provided opportunities to do both.

My mother was a strong woman who did everything she could to support my siblings and me. Since she was a teacher, Mom insisted academics came first. My desire to become a teacher was sparked at a young age by her intense involvement in our education.

Eventually, I grew up and started my own family. I married and was blessed with five wonderful children whom we adore and cherish. Having children of my own reminded me of my childhood dream. My family looked to me for guidance, and I realized this was the necessary push that I needed.

I was not in this alone.

More than 10 years ago, I completed college coursework to begin to determine the most effective route to classroom teaching. Because I needed to support my family, I couldn’t devote all my attention to my studies. I wanted to put school first, but employment often took precedence.

I lacked a clear pathway to the classroom.

There were many times I wanted to throw in the towel and give up, only to have the towel flung back at me as a quiet but strong voice encouraged me to, “Stand up and try again.” My journey wasn’t easy or comfortable, but I persisted, seeking programs that would allow me to start teaching right away.

Then in 2013, I finally graduated with an associate degree after switching from a four-year school to a two-year school. I recommitted myself to obtaining a bachelor’s degree, uploaded my transcript, and applied to alternative route programs while juggling working as an assistant teacher. It seemed I was always lacking something or not meeting the specific program requirements. Even after all the blood, sweat, and tears submitting my documentation, I would receive response after response stating that I needed additional college credit hours beyond the degree I had just earned.

But South Carolina needs more teachers, I reminded myself when I felt like giving up.

But South Carolina needs more teachers, I reminded myself when I felt like giving up. The state and national teacher shortages are well documented. But here was a guy like me who wanted to be a teacher, yet no matter what path I took, I was never chosen to fill one of the several openings that were advertised throughout the school year.

Still, deep down I knew I was a leader.

Remembering my own mother’s commitment and my lifelong interest in teaching early childhood, I continued to research different paths to teaching. When I learned about the Carolina Collaborative for Alternative Preparation (CarolinaCAP), I promptly completed the online application. Finally, I received an acceptance letter congratulating me and stating that I was qualified to teach the early childhood grades I had selected.

Wanting to teach in the district where I was raised, I spoke with the human resources director for the Williamsburg County School System and shared my acceptance to CarolinaCAP. After speaking with our superintendent and gathering some data on her end, she wholeheartedly accepted me as the district’s first CarolinaCAP teacher in the summer of 2020.

And the best part was, I was able to start teaching right away while actively working on certification through CarolinaCAP. 

I was mentored by a wonderful instructor who wanted to make sure I succeeded and was ready for my first day of teaching. Even after completing two graduate courses, my instructor remained accessible. I was guided along the way by a family of supporters who genuinely cared about me as an individual. Micro-credentials were also integrated into the curriculum. This program understood I didn’t have time to wait to finish another degree or complete all required coursework before I could start teaching. Everything was accessible online and in a way that allowed me to work and learn simultaneously.

Then, I felt called to follow.

I followed my colleagues who had arrived at the same time, beginning our teaching journey during a pandemic. Along the road, I made many valuable career connections. With the addition of my first and second grade students and their families, my professional family continues to grow.

I can still picture myself wanting to throw the towel in, but I see that it was thrown back at me with a particular objective in mind. I was a leader when I established a connection between CarolinaCAP and Williamsburg County School District as the first to apply for a teaching post in my district. And I was also a follower when I enrolled in a program that sought to improve the lives of aspiring teachers and children along the way.

So, what are you waiting for?

What you think may be a setback might really be a major comeback.

There’s greatness already within you.

I wish the CarolinaCAP opportunity had presented itself earlier in my journey. But it’s here now waiting for you. Reach out and apply. Your future students are depending on you to make a lifetime commitment to influencing their education. They can’t do it without you.

Rashard Burrows is a former early childhood educator in the Williamsburg County School District where he taught first and second grades at W. M. Anderson Primary School in Kingstree, SC. He is now a certified teacher through the Carolina Collaborative for Alternative Preparation (CarolinaCAP) pathway. Rashard is nearing completion of his graduate studies, working towards a master’s degree in elementary school administration and supervision. He lives in Florence, SC, with his wife, Christina, and children.

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.