Just three years ago, Dallas’ first-grade teacher Eric Hale earned his master’s degree in education from Texas A&M University-Commerce to advance his career. Friday, Hale will be honored as the nation’s top educator working in an urban district.
Hale, who teaches at David Burnet Elementary School, has been selected by The Council of The Great City Schools and McGraw-Hill Education to receive the 2019 Annual Queen Smith Award on Oct. 25. It’s an honor the 40-year-old first-grade teacher never imagined while attending school himself in a high crime, a low-income neighborhood in Phoenix, Arizona.
“I grew up in such a rough situation, I didn’t really have any expectations of going to college. I was just trying to not go to jail, or end up dead, to be honest with you,” Hale said. Hale credits his success to a teacher who helped him discover his self-esteem, the support of Dallas Independent School District and a graduate school program that helped him understand the important role of an educator, beyond the classroom.
“At Commerce, I got a much broader perspective, an understanding that education is basically like the lighthouse for the whole community,” Hale said. “I learned that I was more than just a teacher, working in this system.”
That perspective, and his passion for helping others living in poverty set him and his students up for a lifetime of success. But Hale didn’t always want to be a teacher. After working his way through school, he got a job in healthcare that paid well but left him searching for more.
“I was successful, but I didn’t have any passion for it,” Hale said. “And I’ve always had a passion for my community and helping kids who grew up like me, in poverty. Black, white, brown, purple, it didn’t matter. If you are coming from a traumatic, impoverished situation, you are my family.”
The idea of becoming a teacher only came after some serious soul-searching. “I asked, ‘What can I do that I would love to do, that I feel like wouldn’t just be a job?” Hale said. “The answer was clear: Teaching.”
Hale earned his alternative teaching certificate before entering the masters in the educational administration program at Texas A&M-Commerce.
“How I teach is not traditional, but I get phenomenal results,” Hale said. “Everything I do is about building my kid’s emotional, social and then educational self-esteem,” Hale said. “I am fostering leaders. One of the sayings in my classroom is: ‘Speak what you seek until you see what you say.’”
John Sharp, chancellor of The Texas A&M University System, said growing educational and community leaders like Hale are the primary goal of the 11 education colleges in The Texas A&M University System.
“Eric’s story is inspiring, and we are proud to have been a part of it,” Sharp said. “We also hope it will inspire others.”
School districts across Texas are scrambling to hire qualified teachers.
“Every success story starts in the classroom,” Sharp said. “If you want to teach, The Texas A&M University System’s 11 colleges of education across the state can help you make that dream real. We are committed to your success.”