Cassville teacher, made to feel different as a child by classmates because of his race, inspires students at the school district he grew up in
Drake Thomas is a special education instructional assistant and language interventionist at Cassville Elementary.
In this round of our ongoing series Making a Difference: A Note from the Teacher, we hear first person essays from teachers in the rural Ozarks. This segment features Drake Thomas, special education instructional assistant and language interventionist at Cassville Elementary.
Around 20 years ago a young man sat in his first-grade classroom, absolutely enamored with the woman who stood before him teaching him about guppies. The same woman would go on to instill in him his love of reading, his heart for education and, much to his chagrin, the importance of legible handwriting. She reminded him daily that he could be anything he put his mind to, even the president.
As time went on, he believed her. Unbeknownst to that child, in just a few short decades, he would go on to fill the same shoes as the woman who once influenced him so greatly wore.
Growing up in a rural school was not always easy for the aforementioned young man. His caramel-colored skin and highly textured hair didn’t quite assimilate with that of his peers. Though he was slow to see the differences, many pointed them out. A young man who once thought he could do anything realized very quickly that there were those around him who would try to clip his wings.
Throughout his educational career, the reminder that he could do anything rang in his ears. Even on days when the clouds of life rolled in heavy and dark, the reminder rang true. And those days did come. Life deals unfair cards to all at times, and this young man was no exception. But throughout all the trials and tribulations that fraught his existence, he held tight to one thing: Education. School was a place that made him feel powerful in a world where children are often deemed powerless due to their lack of life experiences.
Education became a tool in his tool belt, a cloak to wrap around him, a shield to protect him. It became everything. It was true — with education, he could do anything.
While he loved learning, it did not come without caveats. There were times the young man was reminded just how different he was. He sat quietly with tear-stained cheeks one afternoon as a classmate told him that they were not allowed to be his friend anymore because of the color of his skin. He heard often that people that looked like him were lazy or even dangerous. The young man knew that if he ever got the chance, he would show anyone he could that looking like him was not a hindrance or a hurdle.
The chest of the young man swelled with pride one afternoon as he was ushered into the school library to watch the inauguration of the 44th president — a man that looked a lot like him. He felt the same pride four years later as he sat in a freshman civics class and watched the same man be re-elected for a second term.
The words of his teacher from years before once again rang true. He felt that he could do anything. And while the young man thought he could do anything, the idea of being an educator was never one he felt drawn toward — that is, until another valuable educator in the young man’s life pulled him into her office one day and told him he should consider education. The young man found it laughable. But the more he thought, the more the idea of sharing his love of learning with others seemed to be a path he was destined for. However, it wasn't until a cold January afternoon, when the young man set foot in the classroom for the first time as a substitute teacher, that he knew that his purpose in life was to educate. The light and love he saw in children’s faces as they learned was the driving force in his pursuit of a life mission. On a summer day, he sat across from the woman who had been his principal when his love for education started. She smiled as she offered him a job — a job that would allow him to shape the lives of the littlest learners forever. A job that allows him to give high fives and hugs, to attend soccer games, baptisms and rodeos, all to support the children that enrich his life daily. The career that allows him to be the smiling face children see as they walk in each morning. This career allows him to stand in the gap for those who are missing a parent, a guardian or just someone to say how proud he is of them. The career that allows him to be the first person of color many children in his school meet. The career that allows him to love and be loved as he shares his love for education in the same little rural school that made him the man he is today.
My name is Drake Thomas. I am the young man from this story. However, my experience is not unique, there are children all over the world just like me waiting to grow into the future of education and the future of humanity.
As President John F. Kennedy once said “children are the world's most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.”
I implore anyone who reads this to invest in the lives of children. They’re our only hope.