Tyneesha has never forgotten her first-grade teacher. “I was struggling in school,” Tyneesha recalls, “because I couldn’t see the blackboard and she was the first to realize I needed glasses.” That greatly improved Tyneesha’s performance in school, and so did the teacher’s calm, caring manner. “She always talked to me and helped me do my homework. The way she nurtured me inspired me to keep going,” Tyneesha says. And it was the first time she saw the difference a teacher can make by helping a child move to the next stage of development and growth.
“I didn’t go to kindergarten or preschool. I went right to first grade. So, I didn’t experience the early learning that’s so essential for young children,” Tyneesha explains. And her childhood struggles have increased her sense of commitment to the young Philadelphia children and families who she now serves as a teacher. Her work at Leaders of the Future Academy is the fulfillment of a dream she’s held for many years.
“I’ve had a passion for teaching since I was a little girl,” Tyneesha says. “When I was in my twenties, I helped raise my nephews and nieces and we always played school. I used to read to them, do arts and crafts with them, and make drawings with crayons. I loved it and longed to be a teacher,” Tyneesha recalls. But she couldn’t pursue her dream because she had to leave school in eighth grade. So, instead, she earned a certificate as a certified nursing assistant and found a job with the American Red Cross. Afterward, she worked at a retail store while running her own booming candle business.
“I did that for about a decade and was making good money. But four years ago, I gave it all up,” Tyneesha recalls. Her old dream of being a teacher haunted her each day because the store where she worked was two doors down from Ummi Wa Bint, a small child care center that mainly served Muslims like herself. “I would see the children every day, and one day I made the decision to pursue my passion at last. The director gave me a chance to work there, along with teaching tips and the resources to pursue my education. Within a year, I had earned my high school diploma. soon afterward I received a scholarship from West Philadelphia Action for Early Learning and began taking classes to earn my Child Development Associate® (CDA) Credential™.”
“I loved the CDA classes because they gave me everything that I needed to be a better teacher,” Tyneesha says. “The CDA program taught me the importance of partnering with parents and getting down on the floor so you could be at a young child’s level. It taught me the value of physical movement and how it stimulates the brain. It encouraged me to sing more and showed me why scribbling stimulates children’s fine motor skills—many things I was already doing. But I didn’t know why, and I didn’t know about the benefits they produced. I owe that to my CDA instructors, especially Ms. Sherilynn Kimble.”
Kimble urged Tyneesha to continue with the CDA program though she was facing some personal issues that made her think she couldn’t go on. “After I missed two or three classes, she reached out to me and said, ‘You can do it Tyneesha. Things are going to be OK’—words that gave me the motivation to go on. I even received a Rising Star Award for being the first in my class to earn a CDA.”
Along the way Tyneesha also enjoyed the support of a CDA classmate, Chavaw Bernhardt, with whom she formed a study group and a strong friendship. It turned out that Chavaw was cofounding Leaders of the Future, the center where Tyneesha now works, and was looking for qualified teaching staff. “I took advantage of the chance to work at a larger center,” she explains, “where there was more opportunity for advancement and higher pay. It was also a chance to serve a more diverse body of children than I had at Ummi Wa Bint, and that opened my eyes to new cultures and traditions.”
“I miss the children I left behind,” Tyneesha says, “and many of the parents were sad to see me go. But we still stay in touch, and one family even followed me to my new center. I’d been working with their son since he was six months old, and the mom loved how much her son trusted me and how much he was learning. He knew his colors, his ABCs and how to spell his name by time he was two years old, and now that he’s three, he’s still doing well.”
So is another little girl who Tyneesha serves at the preschool. She turned two last year and she also knows how to spell her name. Plus, she’s an expert on handwashing, Tyneesha explains. “She likes to explain all the steps to properly wash your hands: get the soap, sing the birthday song while you’re washing and get the paper towels. Then she goes home and tells her mom how to wash her hands the right way,” Tyneesha laughs.
And she attributes successes like these to the CDA training she received. “I still turn to the CDA Standards books when I’m doing my lesson plans and I use what I learned in my CDA classes in my daily work at the center. Everything I am today I owe to the CDA, so I encourage everyone to earn it. When you get a CDA, you become even better at bringing children to the next level in their growth,” she says.
Now Tyneesha is working toward the next level in her growth. “I have an experienced colleague who’s mentoring me and it’s a blessing to work with her,” Tyneesha says. She’s also begun earning an associate degree in early childhood education at the Community College of Philadelphia. She expects to complete it in two years, and someday plans to earn her bachelor’s degree as well. “My ultimate plan is to have my own center,” she says, “and when parents enroll their children with me, I want them to see a wall of degrees. I want the parents to know I have the background to educate and nurture their child.”
It will take some hard work to reach this dream, Tyneesha knows. “You have to sacrifice to work in the early childhood field and pursue your education,” she says. “But the rewards are great: seeing children’s growth, watching their eyes light up when they learn something new and parents telling you their child knows their ABCs and colors or can sing new song. That makes me happy”—and helps heal some old scars from the struggles she faced.
Tyneesha wants to give young children the early learning experiences she missed. And she has learned a lot about how to do it from the CDA instructors and seasoned teachers who’ve mentored her over the years. But her role model is still that first-grade teacher who helped her so much. “The way she was with me is the way I try to be with the children,” Tyneesha explains. And she’s always working to serve them better because she still remembers what that beloved first-grade teacher used to say:
Good, better, best,
And never let it rest.
Until your good is better,
And your better is your best.