Kayla Boyd never doubted she would reach her dream of becoming an elementary school teacher, but there were times she questioned how long it would take.

The journey began at Concord University when her oldest son Eli, now 7, was just 6 months old. 

It wasn’t an easy trek either, as her family grew. Boyd gave birth to her youngest son, Owen, four days after final exams in December 2016.

Though juggling school and two young children wasn’t easy, she said motherhood made it that much more important that she continue her education and secure a good career to support her family.

So, in May 2018, she finally received her degree in elementary education.

“It took a really long time,” Boyd said. “There were definitely times that I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this is never going to end and I’m not going to graduate until I’m 45.’”

Though the degree was the first step, it’s the latest step — or leap, perhaps — as the 27-year-old begins her career as a full-time teacher with her own first-grade classroom at Crescent Elementary School.

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Boyd’s classroom is nestled within the cozy halls of Crescent Elementary School. The white cinderblock hallways give the school a clean, sleek look, but past the large, wooden door of Boyd’s classroom, the energy is bursting with color and the giggles of children. 

Desks are arranged in pods of four so children can constantly interact with one another. Each desk sports a different color chair to go along with it. 

Boyd knew, aside from everything else, whether she makes an impact on a child or not, she wanted to make her classroom a warm and inviting place. 

A “reading corner,” decorated with cozy rugs and rockers for children to relax while they read, is set up in one end of the room. A u-shaped table stands in the back of the room with inviting rainbow-colored chairs. A calendar displaying the weather, temperature, day, season and month is tacked against the wall and is used by a designated student who serves as the daily “weather person.” 

Boyd is excited when she talks about her classroom, as she takes pride in the environment she’s created for her students.

While it’s taken some time to adjust, the experience has been a lot of what she was originally expecting, but there were some emotions she was never expecting to feel. 

“I didn’t expect to adore my students so quickly; they each really already have such a special place in my heart,” Boyd said. 

As hard as it can be sometimes, and as tired as she often is, she said she truly looks forward to going to work and seeing her students’ faces every day.

“There hasn’t been a minute I haven’t loved it.”

Two weeks into the start of the school year in Raleigh County, Boyd still says to herself, “Wow, I can’t believe this is real. This is actually my classroom.”

She recalls a time in her childhood when she often “played school” with her stuffed animals and other toys. She often gave the inanimate objects tests and graded them on their skills.

“I did the whole nine yards,” she recalled, laughing.  

Learning, no matter the subject, and working with young children, has always appealed to Boyd. At some point in her life, though she’s not sure when, the two loves merged. 

After Eli was born, she decided to go back to school. It was no question she needed a solid career, she said, and teaching was the first thing that came to mind.

“The appeal of being able to shape young minds and make a difference is so important to me, especially in our area,” Boyd said.

At a time when the opioid epidemic has formed a dark cloud over the families of children, and grandparents and other immediate family members are raising children more than ever, Boyd said teaching requires a portion of parenting as well. 

If a teacher doesn’t have a love for students, and a desire for them to be good, successful and kind people, Boyd said she believes they’re doing it wrong.

“If you aren’t parenting or teaching life skills just a little bit, then you’re not really teaching,” she said.

Boyd works with her first-graders on how to communicate in a healthy manner, teaching them how to be a “bucket filler.” 

“It’s just about teaching them how to be an all-around good person in our community,” she explained of the concept.

Boyd said she believes Crescent — whose motto is “educating tomorrow’s leaders today” — is the perfect environment to allow students to grow both academically and personally.

Reading, writing and math are crucial but she said she doesn’t feel there is anything more important than learning to be a good person. 

“In a world that can be so cruel and ugly, I want to make sure that my students leave the classroom making the world a little bit brighter,” she said.

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It’s been a difficult road for West Virginia educators over the past two years, as they walked out of the classrooms in 2018 — the first teachers’ strike since 1990 —and then did so again in February. While fighting for rights regarding health insurance, pay increases, more support services for their students, and an anti-charter school campaign, teachers have received more backlash this time than in years past.

But despite the naysayers, discouraging young people from pursuing teaching as a career, new educators like Boyd followed their dreams right back to the classroom.

In the end, she said her desire to teach and her love of children outshone any dark cloud hovering over the education system.

“I thought to myself, ‘How can I contribute to making this better?’” she said. “I want to offer a better area for my kids and all kids, and being in the school is the best way to do that. It’s a main part of all kids’ lives.

“So I figured, why not stay here? Where I can teach kids, learn, and help contribute to society. For me, the positives far outweighed the negatives.” 

— Email: jnelson@register-herald.com; follow on Twitter @jnelsonRH

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