By Brad Washington

I knew sooner or later that a classroom would be calling my name.

I worked with the Boys & Girls Club for more than ten years and as a behavior interventionist for seven years within two schools. Because I worked closely with young people across grade levels, my colleagues would frequently ask: “Have you considered becoming a classroom teacher?” My answer was always the same: “Not yet.” While I had the desire to teach full-time in a classroom setting, I wasn’t sure it was my time.

But in April of 2021, things began to change. The only way to go was up. Yet, becoming a teacher seemed like a winding path up a mountain.

My past experiences served as my initial preparation for the transition to teaching. As an afterschool director and site coordinator for Communities in Schools of South Carolina, I enjoyed leading students and researching ways to make the site coordinator position efficient and fun. I was also a meticulous planner at the Boys & Girls Club, constantly working on different activities for my site. Simultaneously serving as a behavior interventionist at Windsor Elementary and working closely with classrooms provided another window into the teaching world.

But the level of nuance it takes to be a great teacher is a science. Each day is a learning opportunity filled with decisions that include resources, materials, pedagogical approaches, and different methods to build a strong classroom community. No matter how much experience you have, there is always something to learn. My past experiences served as footholds, inspiring me to begin the climb and eventually reach the summit – a classroom of my own.

Teaching is the challenge I always wanted, and I knew I had to start my climb with the first step.

When the pandemic hit, things changed. Having the best of both worlds with both jobs would never look the same. I went from enjoying the endless flow of work to working one job from home through troubled times. I began looking into education programs and discovered  CarolinaCAP. I spent a few days researching the program. Filled with hope and excitement, I called the program director who explained the next steps in the process.

I felt like I had finally found the right program and support to begin my climb.

I knew CarolinaCAP was the right fit because I was seeking a local program near where I lived that would allow and encourage me to work with elementary students. Also, CarolinaCAP offered the mentorship and guidance that I was looking for to grow as an educator while learning the craft of teaching.

Then the reality of the time and intensity of the climb to the classroom took hold. The entire process took several weeks, but since this is what I wanted to do since high school, each passing week brought me closer to the summit. My ultimate dream of operating my own classroom space was right at my fingertips.

Once my paperwork cleared, Dr. Stacy Farr, principal of Newberry Elementary, contacted me on a Monday, interviewed me on a Wednesday, and hired me on a Thursday. I did not mind the hour commute to Newberry. I was finally on track to do what I wanted to do.

Looking back at the path I took, I believe two memories foreshadowed my ultimate ascent to the classroom and served as signs that pointed me toward my future.

On November 9, 2012, my mentor, Mr. Ken Garner, currently the Director of Operations with the Boys & Girls Club of the Midlands, challenged me to become a stronger support with the kids at his site. A year later, a day before my last day working with Mr. Garner, a student told me I was an excellent teacher.

In another memory from 2020, it was “Winning Wednesday” at my site; and we were focusing on social skills and communication. A debate was on the agenda, and I watched the culture I helped form take hold. Students listened to what we had taught them – what we as a staff built through my leadership. They were respectful, thoughtful, and fully engaged.

These moments served as signs that helped me believe I could be a teacher and allowed me to imagine what I could do in a classroom. Like most aspiring educators, I just had to courageously take that first step.

Recently, I sat in my classroom, astonished by where I started and where I was now. Although lesson plans needed final adjustments for the upcoming week, I had many ideas from a curriculum, culture, and social-emotional standpoint. All of these things are like art or alchemy to me. The view from the classroom always grounds me: I’m right where I need to be.

Being accepted in the CarolinaCAP program has allowed me to fulfill my dreams of being an educator, and I encourage anyone who wants to get into the field to take the first step. There is a classroom of children waiting for you, looking for someone to change their lives.

Brad Washington is a current participant in the CarolinaCAP alternative certification program and teaches first grade at Newberry Elementary in Newberry, South Carolina. He is a graduate of Anderson University, has a background in behavior intervention, and is the author of the Social-Emotional Learning and culture-building book, The Greenprint.

This story is published as part of a recent storytelling retreat hosted by CarolinaCrEDhoused in the University of South Carolina’s College of EducationMira 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