NEW ALBANY, Ind — If you ask teachers why they became teachers, many will point to a teacher. They’ll tell stories of an educator who inspired them during formative years of their lives, planting the seed that grows into a lifelong career.
In that respect, Kimberly McClure is no exception. She’s a teacher today thanks to a teacher, too. She has spent years in classrooms in southern Indiana, in many roles, thanks to the woman who taught her in third grade.
But that’s where the similarities between her story and the stories of most of her peers end.
“Probably what made me finally become a teacher is not what most go into teaching because of,” said McClure, who today serves as math coach for the entire Floyd County School Corporation. “I definitely have a learning disability… I was born premature, so I always lagged behind everyone else, but she was the first person that truly brought it to my attention.
“I even remember her saying, ‘you’re just stupid and you’re never going to amount to anything.’ And from then on, it was ‘I’m going to prove her wrong.’ From that day on, I felt like that was what I wanted was to be was a teacher… I wanted them to know, you can do it—it takes a lot of practice and hard work, and it’s not going to be easy—but if you work hard, you have high expectations, you can do it. And I wanted to be the person that got them there.”
Thankfully, McClure’s third-grade teacher was the only person in her life who didn’t believe in her. With the help of her other teachers and her family, she overcame her challenges in school, went to college, and got her teaching degree.
“It was difficult, but I have my bachelor’s degree and I have my master’s degree. In my master’s degree I had a perfect score for my GPA,” McClure said. “I’m 55 years old and I still hear [my third-grade teacher] in my head; but hearing her in my head is what drove me. Whenever I start to think ‘I can’t do that,’ I’m like, ‘Oh yes you can and you can prove you can.’”
McClure went into a field desperate for new teachers: special education. Since she struggled in school herself, she knows what it’s like to feel stuck and frustrated; but, she also knows what her students are capable of.
“She is the epitome of being tough but fair,” said Sarah French, a third-grade teacher who works alongside McClure at S. Ellen Jones Elementary School in New Albany. “They know that she loves them so much, but she’s not going to let them slide in that. She’s going to support them every step of the way. She’s going to give them everything they need, but she’s not going to lower her expectations and they rise to it.”
Today, McClure isn’t just a teacher. She’s also a teacher’s teacher. As math coach for the district, she works with other teachers in their classroom, helping them with lesson plans and teaching style—with a special eye for interactions with struggling students.
“You have to really learn, no matter what a child comes in with, they can do it and you have to push them to that,” said McClure. “And so in my career, I’ve had kids cry on me, I’ve been called choice names, but I’ve learned I have to push those kids and show them what they can do.”
McClure is certainly aware of the struggles facing education today. She knows the number of teachers is dropping, and fewer young people feel interested in joining her in the field. She hopes they’ll reconsider.
“It’s not all about the money,” she said. “It’s about the difference you make here on earth with people. Why wouldn’t you want to do that? It’s awesome. And yeah, I’m passionate about it. I wish other people were passionate about it.”
Watch Kimberly McClure and other S. Ellen Jones Elementary teachers get surprised with a donation from Baptist Health Floyd below: