Author: Bambi Teaff, Dean of Elementary Education, Hamlin Collegiate ISD
As a kid, I grew up in a low-income family home with 3 brothers, my mom and an alcoholic step dad. We lived in south Texas near the coast in a very small town. I never thought of myself as being poor. My mom never really allowed any of us to believe there was something we needed that we could not have or get. She worked hard and she was hard on all of us. She expected a lot from us. The rest of the story is that my step dad was the only dad I knew. My biological dad never laid eyes on me and chose to leave my pregnant mom before I was born. I always thought my step dad was my dad and it was a while before I knew he was my step dad. My oldest brother and I had our names changed legally to his last name at some point in our childhood. He married my mom when I was about 2 years old and my oldest brother was almost 4 years old.
I remember hating to leave school almost daily. I got a knot in my stomach as the end of the school day approached and I knew I had to go home. I never really knew what situation I would walk into when I got to our house. We lived close enough that we were able to walk home from school. My older brother was usually not in the mix as I walked home with my two younger brothers. My mom always worked and provided a steady although modest income for our family. If my dad had a job, he typically would spend a significant sum of his paycheck to purchase alcoholic beverages for his consumption.
I graduated from high school and received a scholarship from my high school teacher’s association. Did they see something in me I could not see in myself? I do not have an answer for that question. I went to college out of high school and did not major in education. I finished 2 semesters (sort of), got married, had a family and then decided to go back to get my degree! With 4 children and a husband and all of the things that go along with those responsibilities, I was able to finish my degree and continue on during my last two semesters in a concurrent degree program to complete my Master’s degree.
So fast forward a few decades and I sit in my hotel room in Cambridge, MA writing a blog post for other educators to read at their leisure. Our team from Hamlin Collegiate ISD will continue working to improve our underperforming elementary campus after attending the School Turnaround Leaders Institute at Harvard University. We are a team of four and we are excited and ready to do this important work! There are four of us who traveled here as a team, ready to continue the work we began together in September 2022.
In a million years, I never thought I would have this amazing opportunity. Some of you have done this work and have said it was the highlight of your career! I am sure you all wanted to make an impact when you decided to become educators. I wonder if I have made an impact as I’ve worked through my educational career? You most likely have at some point wondered if you have succeeded with your desired impact.
I wrote and rewrote this post several times and tried various approaches such as “ways to overcome the challenges we have as school leaders in rural West Texas” or “how to better utilize technology.” I even used “ChatgptOpenAI” to read the generated response for “what do Principals in rural school districts find beneficial and uplifting in a blog post.” None of the things I came up with or the responses from “Chatgpt” seemed real enough to be part of a blog post for school leaders. I ended up with telling my story, of a kid who never really knew they would end up being an elementary principal or anything close to such a career!
My dad is now gone after battling emphysema and COPD for years. He gave up alcohol in his later years and was a really great Pawpaw to all of my children. He was able to see two of his great grandchildren (our two oldest grandchildren) before he passed away. I believe it was something he really wanted to hang in there for! My mom is still working hard around her house in Phoenix. She retired after 30 years of being an adjuster and mediator in the insurance business. She decided being retired was not all that fun and went back to work for a different insurance company and retired there after 15 years. Then she went to work for another company and retired about 10 or so years ago so she could take care of my dad. She is as sassy as ever and still tells us what to do and expects a lot from us. I am so grateful she did and does!