Dallas ISD elementary school educator is named the Texas Teacher of the Year
Special to The Dallas Examiner
Eric Hale, a third-grade math teacher at David G. Burnet Elementary School, has been chosen as the 2021 Texas Teacher of the Year.
The announcement was made Sept. 30 during the virtual Texas Association of School Administrators and Texas Association of School Boards Convention. He was one of six finalists across the state and will now represent Texas in the National Teacher of the Year program in the spring.
The program has honored excellence in classroom education each year since 1969. Each finalist was interviewed Sept.12 by a panel of judges composed of representatives of educational leadership associations, community and business leaders, a member of the State Board for Educator Certification, a member of the State Board of Education and prior Texas Teachers of the Year.
Prior to being a teacher, Hale had a career in health care management. But he said his upbringing as an “angry, hungry and abused” child inspired him to change his career path because he “felt called to be an advocate for children.”
“I own the fact that I’m a father-figure as a teacher,” Hale said. “I care enough to help, but also enough to discipline. I don’t place limits on what my kids can do.”
Hale’s focus is on educating the “whole child” by addressing their emotional, educational and social needs as a teacher. His aim to inspire his students to “break the chains of poverty” is evident in his constant reminders to “love, nurture and help” those around them when students are at work in his classroom.
He was named Teacher of the Year at his campus in 2014.
In 2015, he participated in the Distinguished Teacher Review process, in which the Texas Excellence Initiative defines and evaluates teacher excellence through three lenses: performance, student achievement and student experience surveys that encourage and reward excellence in the classroom and beyond.
Hale was originally excited about the DTR process, as he believed it would reveal his true effectiveness as a teacher. Plus, the opportunity for a DTR teacher to earn a $5,000 salary increase this school year wouldn’t hurt, either.
However, when Hale’s mother suddenly passed away in January 2015, he had doubts about whether he had the motivation to go through with the DTR process. But through the encouragement of his principal, fellow teachers, and feeder pattern Executive Director Tim Hise, Hale completed the DTR process. Then, when teachers received their first TEI scorecards, which provide a snapshot of teacher performance during the previous school year and resulting effective levels, Hale learned he was one of 1,172 district teachers to be named a distinguished teacher.
“Being a part of the first recognized distinguished teachers in Dallas ISD is awesome and being recognized at the highest level feels amazing,” he said. “I feel blessed and honored.”
Last year, he earned the 2019 Queen Smith Award by The Council of The Great City Schools and McGraw-Hill Education. The award recognized him as the top urban teacher in the nation for building self-esteem in his students that has been displayed in his classroom’s exceptional classroom academic performance.
In his classroom, 95% of his students passed the district benchmark in both reading and math, according to the CFISD Community Leadership Committee.
On Sept. 30, he expressed great joy and exhilaration as he learned he was named Texas Teacher of the Year via a Zoom conference.
“I just want to say to all those people out there that are looking to make a difference, that are thinking about going into education, second career people like myself, that you can do it,” Hale expressed shortly after the announcement. “I also want to send a shout out to children who are living in trauma and poverty, that if you work hard you can accomplish any goal. I am a believer, and so that is the reason that I am here. This platform was given to me by God so I can inspire other people – not just boys of color or people of color – all children, especially children who are living through traumatic experiences.”
“Thank you so much, my Dallas ISD family for giving me the opportunity and putting me in situations that made people care what I had to say. And so this win is for everybody. And together we made history. There has never been an African American male to win on any level in Texas, let alone be the one person who was chosen to represent our state at the national level.”
He went on to thank everyone who ever did anything kind for him, from the cafeteria worker to the superintendent.
“What a way to end this awesome ride you’ve been on last year. You started by advocating for your kiddos, Oct. 20, 2019,” said Robyn Harris, Dallas ISD communications director, as she listed his last three awards. “You’ve had an incredible year … who better than you to be able to represent Dallas ISD nationally. And we’re super proud.”
As Hale took in the accolades from his co-workers, he showed off a pair of his grandmother’s socks that he wore for the occasion in her honor, then explain why.
Growing up in Phoenix, Arizona, Hale said that he lived in and out of battered women’s shelters with his mother, who also had issues of drug abuse, and his siblings. He was raised, like many Black children, hearing, “What happens at home, stays at home.” But as the oldest child, he took it upon himself to call his grandmother and told her what they were going through. He said she came from Portland, Oregon, to get them that weekend. As he began to fight back tears, he said she took in the whole family. She was his sense of stability and support – emotionally, spiritually and financially – through college.
“She taught me how to pray,” he said with a shaky voice, “she gave me my faith in God. She didn’t have much more than a seventh-grade education, but the wisdom that he and my aunt gave me, I still use it today. She saw 84 years. She left a legacy of love. She was constantly learning … I told her when I saw her, I said ‘Grandma, I don’t know how, but … I promise you, every goal that I set, I’m going to win in your name. And God saw fit for me to win everything, times two. So God is real. I know she’s with me every step of the way. And the same way I fight and advocate for my kids, I learned that from my grandmother.