CLINTON — Although Carmen Tucker’s passion for educating began with playing school with her siblings and cousins at her grandmother’s house, her real inspiration came from her third-grade teacher.
“She cared,” Tucker said. “She put her all into her students. It wasn’t just about school - and she cared about you as a person.”
Tucker brings a similar passion to her fifth-grade classroom every day at Waldon Woods Elementary School.
Tucker always knew she wanted to be a teacher, but when she started out, she had her sights set on teaching high school. That changed after she substituted for high school and she realized her real calling was to teach elementary. She wanted to make an impact.
“In elementary school you have more of a grasp on trying to mold them, helping them go the right way and do the right things. Their brains are still a sponge, and they listen more so,” Tucker said.
Although she always wanted to be a teacher, Tucker found that the real-life classroom was not what she was expecting.
“College does not prepare you for the real classroom, honestly,” she said. “It just doesn’t prepare you for a real-life classroom.”
But she found she still absolutely enjoyed being a teacher and adjusting her lesson plans to meet the needs of her students. Sixteen years into teaching, she still finds the motivation to come to the classroom every day.
The saying that everybody learned differently holds true, she said, and she has tasked herself with helping her students learn in a way that they’re comfortable. That includes letting students lay on the ground while they work and allowing them to take their shoes off in class. She wants her students to be comfortable.
“I may be the only person that they come across daily that does care, and I just have to love them and be patient,” she said. “But when they do see that you care about them, then in return they work for you. You have to build a connection with them.”
There is a lot of responsibility in helping younger children learn, Tucker said, and in being responsible for molding their young minds, but she likes the challenge. She always sees growth in her students, and she cherishes the relationships she builds with them.
Her students go on to middle school and still write to her frequently. They tell her they miss her and her classroom and some even write asking for help with their math.
Tucker has a special skill for being able to take math and science and making them fun and easy to learn.
“I try to make my classroom fun,” she said. “Math and science both are something you can relate to everyday life. We’re not here to learn this just because we have to learn it. We’re learning to better ourselves for everyday life.”
As with most teachers, Tucker is at her school for the majority of her day. She is often in as early as 7 a.m. and can be caught still at work as late as 7 p.m. Tucker is a mentor teacher, in charge of the school’s positive behavior program and runs a club for girls to explore STEM fields. She is also currently studying to earn her masters, which she will get in May.
Still, Tucker said the most important aspect of teaching to her, is the student-teacher connection. Once a connection is made, and students understand you care for them, she said, everything else falls into place.
“This job is not just teaching. You’re a parent, a counselor, a sibling. You’re all of the above and teaching fits somewhere in there,” she said.
And she is continuing the cycle of creating and inspiring new teachers. While her third-grade teacher may have inspired her, she herself has a former student now at Morgan State studying to be a teacher.
“Her exact words were ‘because of you,’” Tucker said.