It's a big accomplishment to be named the state teacher of the year for your grade, but even bigger when you're the first Black male to ever hold the title.
Jonathon Hines, a pre-K teacher at Barack Obama Elementary School in Atlanta, told CNN winning Georgia's Pre-K Program Teacher of the Year award for public schools is an amazing feeling and "one of the greatest milestones of [his] life." He said he is humbled knowing how many other great teachers are in his state.
As far as being the first Black male pre-K teacher of the year, he hopes the opportunity inspires other men to get inside the classroom and make a difference, and not just leave it to coaches.
He didn't start out wanting to teach pre-K
Hines didn't mean to become a pre-K teacher, but after spending two years in a classroom he fell in love with the impact a teacher can make during a child's first year of school.
The college basketball player came back from playing overseas wanting to coach high school or middle school basketball. However, he didn't end up hanging out with teenagers. To get into the school system Hines took a job as a pre-K paraprofessional.
Two years later, he shocked his principal when he turned down a health and PE coach position to stay teaching the 4 year olds.
"Pre-k is the most important grade to teach. There are no preconceived notions about school ... they are just curious about the world," he said. "I have the opportunity to make their first impression of school a lasting impression and instill a love for learning and a positive attitude."
Watching the children change and develop over the year is one of his favorite things, he said.
"I love the growth from August to May," he said, "They come in needy and leave independent. The growth is the most important thing to me."
Hines hopes to inspire other men in education
Hines said he knows many men in education get into it for the same reason he did — to coach — but he hopes his story will inspire more men to get into elementary education.
"A man doesn't have to play pro sports to be successful, role models are in the classroom. It's okay to be a male in an elementary building," he said.
Hines said that he hopes to pass on his teaching strategies to other teaches and move the ball on encouraging kids to idolize their teachers like the idolize sports and entertainment figures.
He wouldn't rule out being the first teacher with a commercial or shoe deal to make it happen either. — (CNN)