For some, the desire to teach and help mold the minds of the next generation comes at an early age. For others, however, the realization might come a bit later. And for Quenton Gilmore it seemingly came out of nowhere when he decided to take a break from his undergraduate career at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg and head back to his hometown in the Delta to teach on a state emergency teaching license.
Gilmore, a native of Greenwood, Mississippi, says when he was growing up he wanted to be a doctor — spurred by the absence of affordable and quality health care he saw in his own community. Academically gifted, he stood out among his peers but was often ostracized by others, which he says contributed greatly to his shyness and a perceived lack of a self-identity. It was not until he attended the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science in Columbus, where he was able to interact with a diverse group of like-minded students, that he found his true self. From that point forward, it was all bets off — with a once-shy kid from Greenwood standing up and figuring out how he could best inspire meaningful change in his community.
Now, Gilmore is both a graduate student at the University of Mississippi and a sixth grade science teacher — in his hometown of Greenwood.
“I was recruited to teach in my hometown on an emergency teacher license. I was able to help students improve and reach their next academic tier level. It also felt good working in my community — I was working in the same school that I was taught in. Now, I am a teacher teaching in the community that I was raised in — and I am grateful to be one.”
As an educator, Gilmore quickly learned classroom management is one of the biggest hurdles young educators face early on. And while the Mississippi Teacher Corps works hard to prepare future educators for the classroom, it is no surprise a tremendous amount is learned while on the job. By the end of his first year of teaching, Gilmore was starting to feel more comfortable in the classroom, noting his biggest takeaway was you will be just fine as long as you remain consistent and fair with your students.
But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States and shook things up — adding a new layer of unprecedented challenges to an already challenging career.
When asked about the hurdles he faced as an educator during the COVID-19 pandemic, Gilmore said the most obvious one was seeing a stark light shone on the disparities within public schools. Virtual learning is dependent on access to laptops and WiFi, but many students live in areas lacking reliable broadband or do not have a computer at home on which to work. It begs the question to be asked, how did the disparity in resources get this way and why does this exist? Gilmore pointed out many of these questions can find answers rooted in the historical impacts of slavery and the Jim Crow era — despite state provided history books stating otherwise and pushback from state legislators allowing these conversations to even occur in the classroom.
But today, in 2020, Gilmore says the focus must be how we can improve this and how can we prevent these disparities in the future if we want to be able to combat disparities moving forward. He acknowledges there is not necessarily a perfect answer, but it is his job — and that of other educators— to strive to provide the best education for all students. The COVID-19 pandemic has been an uncomfortable situation, but Gilmore looks at this as an opportunity to advocate for improved policies and ultimately better serve students both in and out of the classroom.
While teaching definitely has it challenges — especially during a global pandemic — it is also filled with shining opportunities to make a difference in young students’ lives. Each day in the classroom brings a new adventure and this is especially true when you teach a hands-on discipline such as science. Whether it is demonstrating physics with magnets or describing in detail just what photosynthesis is, lessons like these seem to make the difficulties melt away — and for Gilmore, the real reward is when everything just clicks, and your students have that “lightbulb moment.”
“Another one of my favorite units to teach is life science. I normally get a lot of ‘Ohhh’ moments teaching this unit. The ‘Ohhh’ moment is when the lightbulb clicks on for a student such as ‘Ohhh, that’s what a virus is,’ or ‘Ohhh, so that’s how plants get food.’ It’s awesome!”
So, while Gilmore might not be serving his community during the COVID-19 pandemic in a health care clinic or hospital, he is still out on the frontlines as an educator, working hard to ensure his students can have some sense of normalcy and stability during these challenging times.