Elementary school teacher Eric Hale is an example of determination and tenacity and one who is using every fiber in his body to help his students who had a similar upbringing as he did be the best version of themselves. Hale’s efforts have not gone unnoticed and the Texas Association of School Administrators and Texas Association of School Boards have named him the Texas Teacher of the Year, making him the first Black man to be awarded since the scheme began in 1969.
“I’m a believer, and this win is for everybody and together we made history,” he said.
Hale’s mother abused illicit drugs and as a young boy at the time, he called his grandmother to come and pick him up because he wanted a different life from what he was seeing. His life took a turn for the better with the help of grandmother who encouraged him to persevere in life. That is the same mentality he uses to teach and mentor his students.
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The Phoenix native had a rough upbringing like most of his students. Many of these first and second graders at Dallas Independent School District’s David G. Burnet Elementary School have had to say goodbye to their close relatives who got deported by ICE while some were rendered homeless due to a 2019 tornado. Now, they form part of the minority group that has been disproportionately affected by the novel coronavirus this year.
Despite all these challenges, Hale’s school is one of the best in the state. According to NBC 5, Hale has a unique way of incorporating music through his DJing skills to make learning fun and more flexible. The result? Having an astounding 95% exam pass rate in his class for the last five years.
“Now I have an in-home studio where I create songs that are named after my students…If I can keep my kids energized and keep them engaged, I can teach them how to do anything,” he said.
Ahead of this year’s awards ceremony, six finalists were interviewed by judges mid-September. An emotional Hale, who watched the virtual ceremony from his classroom, thanked everyone, his school, family and his students in a video he shared on Facebook.
“Every child that is from the tribe I came from – the tribe of if, if you weren’t being abused, if you had more money, if you had more resources, you might be able to be something. Keep trying,” he said. “If I can do it, you can do it.”
Hale has been teaching elementary school for about a decade and being the creative genius that he is, he devised ways of teaching virtually so his students do not lag behind.
“To all those people out there that are looking to make a difference, that are thinking about going into education…you can do it,” Hale said in the video where Burnet Principal Sonia Loskot congratulated him.
“I also want to shout out children who are living in trauma, in poverty…if you work hard, you can accomplish any goal. I’m a believer [and] that is the reason why I’m here.
“Together as a family we made history. I thank you guys so much. Anybody who’s ever did anything kind for me…from the cafeteria lady all the way up to the superintendent, thank you.”
In a time where Black people are fighting to end systemic racism, Hale said he particularly believes Black men are capable because of what he has been able to achieve and sure hopes he will not be the last.
The National Teacher award will be held next spring and Hale will compete for the award as the Texas nominee.