In an effort to focus attention on the opportunities in rural schools across the country, the Rural Schools Collaborative has launched its “I Am a Rural Teacher” campaign.  And the first teacher to be featured is Haley Richardson, a native of Pickens County, a graduate of the first cohort of Black Belt Teacher Corps from the University of West Alabama and a second-year teacher at University Charter School in Livingston.

Go here to see Haley’s story.

Here are excerpts that caught my eye.

“Teaching is very different than I thought it would be, a lot people think ‘Oh it’s just an 8 to 3 job, when you go home you’re done,’ but teaching can be very tiring. It’s a non-stop job. You’re working all day, every day, and even by the time you leave here you’re still constantly working at home, whether it’s grading papers, coming up with ideas for the next day, or thinking about your students at home, and what can you do to make their experience at school better than it was today.”

But these challenges make the job meaningful too. Haley wants all her students to see her as someone who cares about them beyond the classroom. “If they don’t get anything else from me, I want them to know that I love them.”

For Haley, teaching is a great way to make an impact on her community. She believes being a rural teacher means “embracing where you live and inspiring your students to know that just because you come from a small town doesn’t mean you can’t be successful, or you don’t have always have to up and leave to find better, because bigger is not always better.”

Now, she works hard to create those deep connections with her students. “If a student tells me at school ‘Ms. Richardson I’m playing a game tonight,’ I’m going to make sure that I go see them. That matters to me because I know it matters to them. I could have a thousand things to do,” she laughs. “And when they look up and see me during the game, that feels good cause I know I made their night by just showing up. Just showing up and being there, it really means a lot to the parents too.”

“There’s a phrase, ‘Take what you have to make what you need.’ So in a rural town we may not have much, but what we do have, we use it to make what we need, and in turn we make successful students. You take what you have to make what you need and you in turn go out and be successful and you bring it back to your community.”

I know Haley who is truly an outstanding your lady.  Several years ago I was invited to a reception for all the members of the first Black Belt Teacher Corps cohort.  I sat beside Haley’s mother.  What I remember most is that Haley spoke and mentioned that because of the Black Belt Teacher Corps scholarship she received, she was finishing college with no student debt.  That brought a huge smile to her mother’s face and a quiet “Amen.”