Why I Teach

On May 8, 1984 my family changed. While on our way home from a doctor’s appointment, a car ran a red-light, hitting us on my brother’s side of the car. Brian spent almost six months in the hospital and then another two and a half years in head-injury rehabilitation centers. By the end of his treatments, we were told that my already hyper-active brother would never mature past the age of about 15. For the rest of our childhood, our roles reversed – I became the big sister taking care of my special needs brother. In junior high, it was determined that Brian would need to be in special education because he could not keep up with the demands of a regular classroom. Brian received a certificate of completion in 1992. The significance of Brian’s schooling did not really register until much later when I began substitute teaching.

As a stay-at-home mom for many years, I wondered what I would do with my time when my youngest began school. A few friends convinced me to sign up to be a substitute teacher.  Two of them worked at a school for “at-risk” students that had a difficult time finding substitutes. It wasn’t long before I realized that my childhood had prepared me for this. Everything my family and I experienced with Brian’s disability helped me understand these students.

I quickly fell in love with the Learning Center. I saw that all students, especially those in alternative school, need someone to believe in them – just like my brother. Brian was able to overcome his disability and find his niche in the world; he is an amazing carpenter. Most of the students at the Learning Center were behaviorally just like Brian, needing someone to believe in and understand them. I was compelled to make a difference in the lives of these at-risk students. 

One day, in the midst of a long-term-substitute position, Mr. Harry Hill, the administrator at the Learning Center, offered me a teaching position but then found out that I did not have a college degree. He encouraged me to go back to school and promised to hire me as soon as I graduated.

The decision came after months of prayer and consultations from my family and close friends. At the age of 35, I became a student again. 

The years I attended school were incredible; however, not wanting to put a strain on my family’s finances, I accepted the MS Critical Needs Scholarship, which would require me to serve two years at critical needs schools. This did not seem like a problem until I realized it would prevent me from being able to accept a position at the Learning Center for two more years. My heart sank, and I had to make yet another difficult decision. 

Almost comedically, Mrs. Patricia Corban, Mr. Hill’s successor after retirement, called me regularly asking if I was ready to come to the Learning Center. She understood my commitment to the scholarship requirements but tried to find a way around it – to no avail! Then, almost seven years after beginning substitute teaching at the Learning Center, I accepted a full-time position and had my very own classroom of “at-risk” students. I have been called crazy, asked why I stay, but I refuse to give up on these kids who remind me of my brother. These students deserve the best teachers. 

I have since returned to school again to obtain my Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership and accepted a position as Instructional Coach, while still teaching two sections of English! 

When people ask me why I teach, all of the previous thoughts go through my head and heart, but I say aloud, “I love my kids.” 

Leslie Hebert
Instructional Coach / English Teacher
Rankin County School District

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