KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Hailey Timmerman can't help but smile when thinking about the future.
"I'm excited and nervous but ready to take on the responsibility of teaching the next generation," she says.
Graduating Saturday, April 30, with a degree in early childhood education, Timmerman just accepted a summer second grade teaching position at Washington Writers' Academy in Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS)—the same district she grew up in.
"It is very cool that I'm able to come back to KPS as a teacher. It is a full circle moment," Timmerman says. "I'm very excited to serve the district that served me. I feel like I can relate to students in KPS in a unique and genuine way because I was once in their shoes."
Timmerman's educator epiphany came while she was a high school student working her first job with Prevention Works, a Kalamazoo nonprofit organization that teaches programming involving substance use and violence prevention.
"I just knew I had a passion to be with youth, and so I stuck with it," she says. "I really do enjoy it, and not even specifically teaching them—I do like seeing kids learn—but, really, I want to give value to these kids and show them that there is a safe space and that somebody cares about them."
Timmerman decided to pursue an education degree from Western in part because of the Kalamazoo Promise, a program that provides up to full tuition for all KPS graduates at any Michigan college, trade school or vocational program.
"My sister also convinced me to go to Western because she's an alum," she says. "We took a campus tour of Western, and I went specifically with someone in the education field. And they showed me around Sangren Hall, the College of Education (and Human Development) and everything, and that sold it for me. So I decided to come to Western, and I'm very happy with my choice."
During her second year on campus, Timmerman was accepted into the Future Educators Program (FEP), which is a partnership between Western, KPS and the Kalamazoo Promise that is sponsored by the Pickard Family Fund and Advia Credit Union. It provides additional opportunities and support for students in historically marginalized populations pursuing teaching careers.
"Our faculty advisor for that program supported me so much," Timmerman says, adding the program also connected her with volunteer opportunities and helped her network with potential employers within local school districts.
As the cornerstone of Western Michigan University, the College of Education and Human Development continues to build upon its rich tradition of excellence by facilitating the preparation and growth of pre K-12 teachers, human service professionals, innovative designers, and health and wellness specialists.
Those experiences inspired her and other students in her cohort to start their own Registered Student Organization, Future Teachers of Color. The group focuses on bringing future educators of color together for career preparation, academic success, mentorship, community service outreach and networking.
"Seeing the impact a support group like FEP had on me, I wanted to extend that to all future educators, whether in the scholarship program or not—specifically for teachers of color," says Timmerman. "To flip the script on the perception of students of color and the narrative our students have to live is huge for me. I want to see everybody win.”
It's also huge for children of color, who don't often have teachers who look like them. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows 79% of public school teachers identified as white and non-Hispanic in 2017-18, the most recent data set available.
"It's exciting. I can already see that it makes a difference in my internships. When I was in a school with mostly Black and brown children, I could see them gravitating toward me, getting excited, because they could connect with me in ways other teachers couldn't connect with them," she says. "It makes me nervous because it's a big responsibility, knowing I could be a role model for some of these young boys and girls, and I don't want to mess it up. But at the same time, I'm excited to be that person they might never have had."
Timmerman completed four internships during her time at Western, getting a broad base of experience with students in kindergarten, third and fifth grade as well as working as a reading and writing comprehension tutor. She's graduating at the top of her class, named a Presidential Scholar for the Department of Teaching, Learning and Educational Studies.
"I think Western has set me up for success, giving me many best practices specific to education. I also feel like I have made connections with a lot of professors who will be there if I ever need help down the road," she says. "It's also great knowing I started an organization on campus that not only helped me find belonging but will create opportunities for other people."
Find more Bronco success stories on the Ready for Success webpage.
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