Updated: Jun 10, 2020
Be content with being different. Think outside of the box. Look for problems to solve and start a business that promotes the solution.
America’s primary and secondary education system is facing numerous challenges, such as: overpopulated class sizes, poverty, bullying, lack of parental involvement, underpaid educators as well as a lack of passion for teaching and building our future. These challenges, which pose no proven solution as of yet, has the world baffled to find a starting point. But there is one Re.engineer that is not backing down from the call. Meet Pamela McCray, doctoral candidate, 2x HBCU Alumna, Teacher of the Year, keynote speaker, and devoted wife and mom. We were very fortunate to have the opportunity to sit down with Mrs. McCray to capture her story and discuss youth and leadership from her perspective. Read on and we at Re.engineer are sure you will be blessed by her amazing testimony!
A native of Kansas City, Kansas, Pamela McCray is a proud graduate of Bishop Ward High School and a two-time graduate of the #1 HBCU in the nation, Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, LA. While there, she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and a dual Master’s degree in Education and Supervision. She also became a part of the most Divastating sorority on the yard, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Mrs. McCray then went on to complete all required coursework towards earning her Educational Doctorate degree through Walden University with a 4.0 GPA. During her tenured decade in the classroom Pamela impacted the lives of so many Kindergarten-5th grade students in both East Baton Rouge Parish and Fort Worth ISD, many of which she still keeps in constant contact with today. She has been an Instructional Specialist of Literacy for 6 years.
Some of her achievements include: Top 10 Teacher in North Texas, Teacher of the Year, keynote speaker at Charleston Southern University, where she enlightened administrators and district heads about the importance of growing their own leaders. In 2017, Mrs. McCray founded Kneesentials (which is a non-profit organization, created to assist the underserved) and is currently the CEO of Mind Mogul, Inc., an educational powerhouse that offers premier literacy remediation and enrichment services for K-12 students. She also served as a keynote speaker at the Bring Back the Passion 2019 conference. Mrs. McCray has been married to her husband Jeremy for 11 years and they share 2 beautiful daughters, Zoey and Savannah. Q: What inspired you to pursue a career in education? Pamela: Go back with me to 1985….I was sitting on the carpet listening to my Pre-K teacher read The Boy Who Cried Wolf. While she was reading, a little boy reached over and snatched a barrette from a little girl’s hair, and began to laugh hysterically. Her piercing scream scared everybody. My teacher jumped up to handle the situation. She took the remaining barrettes out of the little girl’s hair and escorted the little boy out of the classroom only to reappear two minutes later with him covered in crocodile tears. My teacher had placed all the barrettes in his afro and demanded that everyone laugh at him. Everyone laughed…………..except me. My teacher noticed and was not happy. She headed straight towards me. She was furious. My palms were sweating and my legs were noodles. Before she could even ask why I was not laughing an unfamiliar voice from within screamed out so clear and strong, “Nothing about that is funny!” She snatched me up and into her office we went. She paddled me but tears didn’t fall. She continued but nothing. She tired out and pushed me back out with the class. I ran to the little boy and embraced him. My teacher reemerged from her office. My eyes cut her and she watched in silence as I removed all of the barrettes from his head and returned them to their rightful owner. It was in that moment that a teacher was born. I didn’t know the first thing about teaching but I knew there had to be a better way and I needed to set out to find it before more children were hurt….. Q: How has your matriculation at an HBCU helped you to become a better leader amongst your peers? Pamela: Enrolling AND graduating from an HBCU brings out G.O.A.T. traits and characteristics for all that choose the HBCU path. One of my proudest memories was looking around on the first day of class and being the majority, for once. Coming from a high school graduating class with only five African-Americans to attending the largest HBCU in the country, Southern University and A&M College, you already know this was a big deal for me and I was going to ride this thing until the wheels fell off. Majoring in Education, I had professors that knew my name and my hometown and commonly called me by one or the other. I was not a number. My professors lit fires of confidence and pride under all of their students. These same professors taught me that problems are complaints if they don't come with a proposed solution. My professors made it clear that we were going into a field that could make or break a child’s outlook on public education and it was not to be taken lightly. I applaud my professors for teaching us how to make something out of nothing. I remember watching coworkers that graduated from a state university in tears on the first day of teaching because the kids did not “act” like the case studies in the textbooks they read. I had all my systems in place on day one because my professors made it known that kids come to school every day ready and in search of that moment they can catch you slipping because you were unprepared, then they'd take over. Thanks to my HBCU professors, I was overly prepared for the classroom! Q: From the outside looking in, it seems as though we have some major opportunities to overcome with respect to our youth and their development. Please share how you are making a difference to close the educational gaps. Pamela: While a classroom teacher, I pushed a term I coined, Power of “Real”ationship (POR). I never taught a class of students because in my eyes we were a family and they were my children. Everything I did in my “family room” was with strong relational intent. For example, I never paid attention to the placement cards that teachers received at the beginning of the year that gave a behavioral snapshot of each student on your roster. By not viewing these cards, I single-handedly eliminated pre-judgement and created a clean slate and equal playing field for ALL my children. I gave my kids the fresh opportunity to show me who they were and over a span of 10 months introduced them to many tools, avenues, and values that they never knew existed. Relationally, I was tapping into and shaking up their little worlds and they didn’t even know it. As I type in this moment, I am reflecting back on one child of mine that had lost his mom in a car accident and had zero paternal support. He would tell me at random times throughout his 3rd grade school year, “You do something to my heart from 8 to 3 and I can’t really explain it. You make my heart feel funny.” I chuckled every time and told him that funny feeling was love and it was OK to experience that feeling. Sadly, he would go on to be my first child to ever bury, at the ripe age of 19, but relationally he taught me more in 10 months than I could’ve taught him in a lifetime. On the first day of class I always apologized to my kids for all of the teachers they may have had before me or would have after me that put them down, singled them out, or made them feel less than. Many tears were shed on the first day each year and though it was relieving for the kids, the reality hurt me so much because the tears confirmed what I already knew, so many students, eyes filled with tears, had already been negatively impacted by poor teachers. It was my hope that each year thereafter, less students would cry when I apologized, as this would tell me that they had not experienced such pain so early in their educational journey. Unfortunately, the number of tears increased every year and I learned quickly that hope is not a plan. My instruction the first two weeks of class were the most vital of the entire year. All activities conducted were relational seeds and I incorporated the curriculum into it. Trust was earned, expectations were modeled and praised, and rules were enforced without embarrassment. My inner-city kids felt safe, they trusted me and by week three, day one, of every school year, we were ready to turn the educational bereavement gap into powerful educational laps in the area of student achievement. Until the world understands that the key to our youth is getting into their hearts through relational means, until teachers understand that closing gaps require more than teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic, until educational leaders understand that the key is not found in a test, until parents understand that more than simply providing a roof and food (even inmates receive room and board) is required, there will continue to be a major deficit in education and a major disconnect from our youth. Get Relational! Q: At Re.engineer we believe that collaboration and challenging the status quo is paramount to being an innovator. Your students have definitely demonstrated these values and I’d love to know how are you able to impact their lives the way you do? Pamela: As an educator, I maximized the time I had with them daily. I taught the whole child. Yes, my kids were going to be taught the core content but they were also going to be taught about morals and values EVERY DAY! We were a family and therefore I taught them the definition of family and how one functions. Many of my kids came from dysfunctional households and I simply taught them that you can’t pick the hand that you are dealt in life but I can sure teach you how to play your hand and make it work out for your good. I never once told my kids that the world is this one big garden with flowers and rainbows. I let them know that it was waiting to eat them alive but only they could decide their fate. I taught them that statistics did not fall in their favor but I gave them the tools needed to be the “exception”. I still keep in contact with many of my angels today. Even though I relocated to TX I went back to Baton Rouge every year for high school graduations. This was a promise that I made to my children while I was their classroom teacher. I cheered for them as they walked across the stage. I had plans of attending college graduations in May but due to COVID-19 ceremonies have been cancelled. I have attended baby showers, attended D1 football games in support of my angels and even done a drive-by where I surprised my babies at their homes over Christmas break. Believe it or not, I still have the same phone number because I promised my angels that I would always be just one phone call away. My angels tell me all the time that I impacted them in so many ways, and it feels good to know that my mission was accomplished! Q: What advice would you give to young professionals or entrepreneurs as they start their career or business? Pamela: Be content with being different. Think outside of the box. Look for problems to solve and start a business that promotes the solution. When I first started teaching, there was a lack of parental support across my campus. Many teachers complained about it and did nothing. I immediately thought hmmmm, if they won’t come to me then I’ll go to them. I held parent teacher conferences at night clubs. I knew on Thursday’s all women got in free before 10. So I made sure I was there and met with them in their cars or inside in a small room. We discussed their kid’s progress and concerns and I got my signatures. Not shocking that I had the highest parental support on my campus that year. A few years later, I worked on a campus that was surrounded by apartments. My door became a revolving door around the first of every month when rent was due. I would receive excuse notes on the back of eviction notices. I immediately thought hmmmmmm and I teamed up with a large financial company, and explained my problem and asked if they could help be a part of my solution by donating gift cards that could only be used towards rent. Every day that my kids showed up for class they were able to put their names on a ticket for a monthly drawing. The mobility rate in my class slowed drastically that year. So, young professionals and entrepreneurs, find a global problem and build a solid business that will combat or eliminate it! Be content with being different. Think outside of the box. Q: What keeps you up at night? Pamela: Simple...Thinking about how much the world will change as soon as my feet hit the floor in the morning! From her very first formal experience in the classroom to her matriculation of her doctoral studies, Mrs. McCray has stood strongly for students rights and she has become a masterful seller of "HOPES & DREAMS". Her passion about kids is shown not just by her talk, but in the countless number of students that find their way back to her, long after they were initially blessed by her gifts. Join us in celebrating her journey as a dynamic, talented "REAL"ationship builder. Mrs. McCray, you are a certified Re.engineer!