As you have read through part 2, I hope you have a clearer understanding on why I have chosen a Phoenix to represent my life. For part 3 I will explain how I continued to rise from the ashes, but ran into a lot of challenges along the way.
Once I started high school, my first challenge was to figure out my identity and where I belonged. This was hard because I was an athlete, black, and a ward of the state. In addition, 90% of the students were white so if you were black, chances are you came from Maryville and this would cause us to be labeled by peers and teachers. Furthermore, the socio economic status of the students were middle to upper class, so I did not fit in. I had to ask myself a series of questions: Who do I hang out with in school? Who do I sit at the table with during lunch? What classes should I take? Most people who came to high school can answer most of these questions. Since I was dealing with other issues in elementary and middle school, considering these questions were not high on my list of priorities. Heck, I didn’t know what I was going to do after high school. I started thinking about college after my sophomore year and this was due to seeing my brother going away to college on an athletic scholarship.
Unlike middle school, my years in high school were the worst of my school career because I had a hard time fitting into a group and making friends. Due to my living arrangements at the group home, I felt embarrassed asking friends over to hangout, which really impeded by ability to develop lifelong friendships. This would follow me into college. Unlike middle school, the teachers weren’t as nurturing and did not build strong relationships with students. Only a handful of them made the effort to develop relationships with me, let me be myself and treated me as an equal to my peers.This lack of fitting in caused me to suppress my past and even lie about it whenever the topic arose in conversation. In addition, I was constantly being compared to my older brother and usually referred to as “Mike’s little brother,” and never as my own person. My biggest support in high school came when I joined volleyball. It gave me focus, a sense of being part of a group and motivated me in class. That experience has helped me value athletics/clubs for those kids who may not excel in the classroom, but dominate elsewhere; these activities may not be common core, but develop the “whole child.”I came into high school optimistic, and left confused and still trying to figure out the direction I wanted to go in life.
I am now 18 and entering college as a PE major, because that is what my brother did. I was grateful for my full ride, Division I volleyball scholarship, as my grades wouldn’t have afforded me the same opportunities. 9 years ago, I never envisioned myself here or even alive. When I went to college, there were a new set of questions that arose (some might sound similar from high school). What am I going to major in? Who are my friends? Who am I going to hang out with? Am I going to party? Should I ditch class? As I am thinking about these questions, I did not have guidance or support I desperately needed because once you left the group home, you were on your own. Did I make mistakes along the way? Yes! Did I change my major a couple of times? Yes! This was due to not knowing my purpose and direction in life. I did not own my education and did just enough to pass the classes. No one was looking at my grades and offering me support or having those “parent-child” talks with me, so I just kept on doing the bare minimum. I never really valued grades until I figured out how they impacted me being able to take “majors” classes.
At this point, my past was still kept as a secret. After losing my scholarship due to an injury, I was forced to switch schools and start over again. Then I met my girlfriend, now wife, and had a connection that I’ve never experienced with anyone in my life. She was patient, understanding and a motivator and got me to open up and start owning my past. I finally had someone to unleash 22 years of feeling inadequate, embarrassed, angry and depressed. With her encouragement, I told a few close friends, who didn’t treat me any differently. Their acceptance of my past help me to gain confidence in myself, but I still didn’t feel that I fit in completely and made some poor choices as a result. 4 years into college, I realized that everyone was graduating but I never advance towards my major because I was being mediocre. My girlfriend graduated and I still hadn’t advanced in my major. The realization that I better get my act together started to sink in.
Eventually, I left ISU (Illinois State University) and attended National Louis University to get my Bachelors in education. The biggest extrinsic motivation for graduating was not losing my girlfriend; as patient and supportive as she was, I could not expect her to stay with someone who was not taking their life seriously. Seeing her as a teacher only further inspired me to get it together. While at National Louis, once again, I found a teacher who motivated me and taught me how to love a subject. His name was Dr. Paul Gross and he was the best professor I ever had. He taught me to love science and appreciate the importance of knowing and understanding science. My love of science came from him and is yet another example of how teachers can play a huge role in the lives of students.
I am a firm believer that we are put on this planet to accomplish something. In 2011, I felt like that accomplishment was graduating with my bachelors in education. The fire was burning and I was finally ready to take on the world in the classroom, but still wasn’t quite there. I struggled to pass the language arts portion of the basic skills. I again, was embarrassed and depressed. I had to put my pride aside and admit that I needed help. I got that help, worked my butt off studying and ironically, that portion became my highest scoring section. Finally, I was ready to get into the classroom and impact lives…oh wait, I still didn’t have a job. Luckily, that came along and the feeling I got when signing that teacher contract, felt like I was being given the keys to the world. I, Terence White, had made it.
Some people may think, why is this guy teaching when his life was so screwed up? What can he offer kids? Don’t we want teachers who excelled in school as role models for our kids? I stand firm that students need a variety of teachers with different experiences; students are all different and teachers should reflect that.
The reason I am sharing this story is because I want people to know the journey that I have taken to get to where I am today. This year, I became the first person in my family to graduate with a masters degree. If you told me 10 years ago that I would have a masters degree and be going for another one, I would have laughed you out of the room. This “Phoenix” blog is a platform upon which I want people to open up and share amazing stories about themselves, people who empowered them, classrooms, schools and students; it’s time for us to empower others in the world through sharing.
I stand before you as a product of the environment I was raised in. Some good, some bad. Luckily for me, there was enough good through support of teachers, coaches and mentors that won me over. Without them, there is no telling how this story would have changed or even ended years earlier. I owe my past successes to them, but I owe it to myself to keep pushing forward, creating my own success and empowering others to rise from the ashes and become their own Phoenix.