CENTRAL CABARRUS HIGH SCHOOL — “I see you for who you are," D'Aulan McCord said. "I want you to succeed and I’m going to encourage you in any way that I can.”
Cabarrus County Schools is blessed with talented, passionate teachers who truly care about their students. It’s impossible miss that when spending any amount of time with any one of them.
D’Aulan McCord might care more than all of them.
When this teacher at Central Cabarrus High School — who is one of five finalists for CCS teacher of the year — talks about her students, you can tell she genuinely wants them to succeed and she wants every one of them to know just how important they are to her.
“I put a lot of hard work into trying to grow kids and just make them feel like school is not something that is being done to them, it’s something that is going to benefit them,” she said. “It’s something that can help them, it’s something that can inspire them.”
McCord has been teaching for 14 years with her last nine coming in North Carolina.
A native of Oakland, Calif., she didn’t take a normal path to get to where she is. She initially earned her Associate’s Degree from Diablo Valley College in Oakland before transferring to San Francisco State where she got her Bachelor’s Degree in psychology.
After college she went on to serve as a counselor for emotionally disturbed children in California. But after a while, she needed a change.
“It’s hard,” she said. “A lot of the things that you see and you hear and you’re exposed to will make you realize that people are cruel.
“And some of the things that happen to kids (are) horrible, to people in general. But when you really talk about someone who can’t defend themselves, it’s a hard thing to deal with and I was taking that home with me every day.”
Her job out of college wasn’t easy, but her next step in life wasn’t going to be a cakewalk either. After leaving her previous job she applied to be a teacher’s assistant in California and found out it paid $9 an hour.
That was an absolute no-go for her, especially with the cost of living in California. But, her husband encouraged her to give it a chance, to go and see what happens.
McCord went through the interview, answered the questions the best she could knowing full well she wasn’t licensed as a teacher, and something amazing happened — her interviewer told her she should apply to be a teacher.
Again, she wasn’t certified as one and she told them that, but they insisted anyway. So she came back for a second interview with several principals from around the area and was offered a job at Fairfield High School.
This wasn’t an easy process. She had to work on a long-term substitute credential and had to enroll in a teaching program at the end of the year.
“I learned a lot that year, but what I also learned at the end of that year is that I wanted to teach,” she said. “So I enrolled in a credentialing program…and I worked as an intern…so I got paid to teach, which a lot of people going into the teaching profession do not, so I feel like I was very fortunate.
“I went to school and I worked as a teacher and I got taught how to teach and I got paid to do it, and at the end of the process, which I think took about three years, maybe a little longer than maybe the normal route, I was a fully licensed teacher.”
Teaching has been a perfect match for McCord who is a math and Exceptional Children instructor at Central Cabarrus.
Like many people her life was shaped by teachers growing up, but hers was especially. Her father was a swing worker and her mother didn’t have a car, so she had problems getting to places when she needed to.
But one teacher of hers actually drove her around when she needed it. Another helped her learn to write and another taught her it was OK to let her voice be heard — McCord would not be the teacher she is today without them.
“When I think about these teachers and how they impacted my life – on an educational level, yes, it’s profound, but on a personal level, it’s so much more inspiring,” she said. “And so when I think about what I want kids to think of me as, it’s that. I want them to know that I am their biggest cheerleader, I’m also going to tell you when you need to straighten up, I’m going to give it to you straight because I don’t want you going out into the world thinking that what you’re doing is OK.
“But it comes from a place of love, it never comes from a place of, ‘I’m being mean to you or I’m just trying to make you feel bad,’ it’s always coming from a place of, ‘I want you to be the best version of yourself, and I’m going to do what I can to help you do that.’”
McCord wants to have relationships with her students like she had with her teachers growing up and she goes the extra mile to make sure they know she cares.
Every single semester she takes the time to pen a handwritten letter to each and every one of her students. These are personal messages either about a conversation they had or a strength students may not necessarily see in themselves, or even sometimes it can be a letter of caution for a child to straighten up and get their act together.
There’s a particular reason for that last one.
“This idea came from the fact that I’ve had students — not here, but in California — that I’ve lost, that have been killed or have been lost to violent crime and these were the kids who, you hate to say this, but you see it coming, and you’re like, ‘I’m trying to rein you in, I’m trying to hold you closer so that you understand there’s a different route you can take than the path you are taking right now which is really self-destructive,’” she said. “But I was looking at a drawing that one of those students made for me one day and said, ‘If I could just write this kid a letter what would I say to him?’
“And I was like, ‘Well why don’t I do that? I’m going to write all of these kids letters to let them know what I think of them,’ because sometimes they don’t hear that. They don’t hear, ‘You’re an awesome human being, and you’re super smart, and you’re funny, and you have great ideas and you’re amazing at being a friend,’ and they don’t necessarily hear those things and so I want them to know that.”
This is why McCord never wants to leave a classroom. Maybe she eventually will start teaching teachers to teach but she never wants to get away from helping people through learning.
The relationships she builds through that make her the kind of teacher that she is.
“I try very hard to build relationships with my students because my philosophy is that when you start a foundation with building a strong relationship, then when kids are struggling or they may not feel as safe as they can – as it relates to learning the content – they will come to you and they will work with you,” she said. “So I make it a point that no matter what I’m doing I talk about the relationships I forge with my students. I’m very proud of that.”