Tierra James | Going Places with the CDA®

March 27, 2024

Oh, the places you’ll go!” Dr. Seuss exclaimed to kids in a famous book. “There is fun to be done! There are games to be won. And the magical things you can do with that ball will make you the winning-est winner of all”—words Tierra loves and reads every year to the children she serves at Growing Room Child Development Center in Georgia.

“One of the books that inspires me in my classroom work is Oh the Places You’ll Go!,” Tierra says. “I like the way Dr. Seuss explains the role that both trials and tribulations play in finding your way in life. You may start on one road and then realize you’re meant to go on another road. Then, once you find out where you belong, you’ll be okay”—a journey that Tierra went through on her road to success in the early learning profession. She was recently named by Georgia Child Care Association as its provider of the year, an honor she never imagined a few years back while taking a road to a different destination.

“I was going to college to be a theater director for young folks from preschool to high school age,” Tierra recalls. “While doing that, I began working at the Growing Room to pay for my degree. But I never finished it because I fell in love with the children. I’ve been working with them full time since 2017,” Tierra says. And her current job allows her to fulfill a childhood dream.

“When I was in second grade,” Tierra recalls, “I said in my school’s yearbook that I wanted to be a teacher.” At the time, Tierra didn’t know anything about curricula and best practices for the classroom, but she knew the key role that teachers can play in building a lifelong foundation for children. “I wanted to guide children to be good people with a sense of empathy and compassion. I believed this was a way I could make the world a better place.”

She had faith, as Dr. Seuss said, “you’ll move mountains,” and can “decide where to go,” especially when you have the right skills to succeed. And Tierra is getting them now by earning her Child Development Associate® (CDA) Credential™. “This is my second year working toward my CDA®,” she says, “and one of the main things I love about the credential is that it is 100 percent geared toward your career. I know that I’ll be able to put what I’m learning into my classroom practice every day.”

Earning a CDA will also open a new road in her career, Tierra explains. “Since starting my CDA, I’ve been working as a provisional lead teacher. Once I finish, I will officially be the lead teacher in my classroom.” So, Tierra is going places with her CDA, and she also owes thanks to the center’s directors for encouraging her to earn the CDA and helping her rise in the ECE field. “They pushed me to be a better teacher,” she says, “and a better role model for new staff who are coming to work at Growing Room, where I’m part of a formal mentoring program.”

Tierra mentors new teachers by building bonds with them and helping the teachers find out what works for them in the classroom. “After a teacher has worked at Growing Room for two weeks,” she says, “we have a sit-down meeting to see how they’re doing. If they need extra help after a month, we’ll meet for a dinner where we discuss the challenges they face. And we’ll keep meeting up for six months so beginning teachers feel they have support,” Tierra explains. She keeps the conversation going as she urges new teachers not to give up, another piece of advice you’ll see in Tierra’s favorite book. “When things start to happen,” as Dr. Seuss said, “don’t worry, don’t stew. Just go right along, you’ll start happening, too.”

It’s a persistent approach that has guided Tierra as she deals with young children in the post-pandemic classroom. “In recent years, I’ve had kids who were born when Mom and Dad could stay home and do everything for them,” Tierra says. “I’ve had to teach four-year-olds basic things I’ve never had to teach before like how to change their clothes and push their chair up to a table.” So, Tierra is taking steps to help them grow and become more independent. “What has worked for me,” she says, “is giving the children routines for hanging up their coats, washing their hands and doing jobs like passing out plates and cups for lunch.”

Sharing classroom chores helps with their peer interaction, Tierra explains. That, in turn, helps with the speech delays that Tierra has been seeing more of post-pandemic. “I think that the lack of peer interaction slowed down the children’s speech development,” she says. “So, we’re constantly talking in class. We put the children in small groups to chat. We talk in a big group while we’re playing outside. We’re constantly working to build the children’s language skills.”

All the talking and doing small tasks have helped the children make progress, Tierra explains. Reading to them also helps, a classroom activity in which Tierra has drawn on her background in theater. “I know how to use my voice and facial expressions to keep them engaged and get across basic messages that will help them advance,” she says. And one of the key lessons she wants to pass on again comes from the good Dr. Seuss: “You’re off to Great Places! Today is your Day! Your mountain is waiting! So…get on your way!”

These words are among the things that children remember from Tierra’s class, as she’s glad to see. “The most rewarding part of my job,” she says, “is when former students, who’ve gone on to elementary school, drop in to visit me at Growing Room and talk about the things they learned from me. The children tell me that they remember how I read this book or taught them that word and how it’s helping them now.” And the parents also thank her for the impact she’s made on their children. “Families tell me that I’ve helped their children be good people who assist their classmates,” as Tierra explains. In addition, her students speak better, are more self-reliant and stand up for themselves, as she’s learned from the grateful notes she sometimes receives. Whatever places they decide to go in life, Tierra’s students are ready to face any mountains that may wait.


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