William Hill, Regional Executive Director, Midwest for Partners in School Innovation provides an inspiring story about becoming an educator, published in the Spring issue of Leader Magazine, the official magazine of the Michigan Association of School Administrators.

For me, as with many of the best educators I have known, my profession is a calling. To facilitate learning and see the light bulb of understanding come on in students is a true joy and privilege. But what I truly relish is getting students to see something much broader—their limitless potential. I also enjoy supporting the learning of fellow educators, which I did for six years as a school and district administrator and which I now do as a leader in a nonprofit that supports district and school transformation. The drive to help people of all ages become the best version of themselves profoundly inspires me to remain on my learning edge and continuously improve my own practices.

I became an educator despite the fact that the schools I attended as a child in Baltimore, Maryland, were not always nurturing. After substance abuse broke up my parents’ marriage, I moved with my mother and brother to a nearby housing project. It was not a safe place; the vast majority of young men in our part of town were caught up in a cycle of violence, substance abuse, and prison. Boys from my neighborhood were greeted by teachers with mistrust, disdain, and low expectations. For example, when I scored well on the state’s test in fourth grade, my teacher said, “We need to re-test that one; kids from the projects don’t get scores like that.” Comments like that hurt, but I did not let them deter me from continuing to push myself academically.

One of the main forces propelling me to excel in school was my mother’s example. She had been a homemaker until her marriage ended, but once she was solely responsible for my brother and me, she took on two jobs outside the home to keep us housed, fed, and clothed—refusing to accept any form of public assistance. On top of that, she put herself through school and became a diagnostic medical sonographer. I could not help but be inspired by her.

I would go on to college and learn about the societal forces that prevent vulnerable children of color from realizing their potential. It’s a complex mixture of sociology, politics, economics, and psychology, but in my mind it boils down to systems and structures that promote and reinforce low expectations. Children desperately want us to believe in them. This is especially true of vulnerable children, who often are not getting positive reinforcement at home for a complex set of reasons. High expectations inspire children to achieve things they did not know they could.

The high expectations that my mother had for me helped drive me, and I have been successful in life despite being discounted by teachers as a young student. I am living, breathing proof that a person can overcome the challenges that stem from poverty if given the proper encouragement, supports, and opportunity.

Download the full article here.