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Never Quit winner is an Indiana Head Start teacher determined to help others

Never Quit winner is an Indiana Head Start teacher determined to help others
By Pablo Ros ·
Never Quit winner is an Indiana Head Start teacher determined to help others
Member-provided photo.

Looking back on her life, Tekeyla McCracken is grateful to those who helped her along the way.

She was a small child when her father survived a random shooting but never fully recovered. Her mother was addicted to drugs. McCracken became pregnant at 14 and, soon after, her mother kicked her out of the house.

“I was starting to go down the wrong road,” she recalls. “I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. I didn’t know what was going to become of me.”

But she wasn’t alone. Two of her teachers at school – Ms. Crawford and Ms. Harris, her math and health teachers – noticed what she was going through.

“They saw potential in me and saw that I was making the wrong choices,” McCracken says. “They helped me get emancipated. I was emancipated at 15 and got my own apartment. I was living on my own with my baby at 15. It was very scary.”

Despite the odds against her, McCracken was determined to succeed. With the help of friends, her teachers, and public services such as income-based housing and reduced-cost child care, she went to school during the day and held a job at night. After she graduated high school, she went to college for a teaching degree and later returned for a bachelor’s in child psychology.

She was a behavioral therapist for a while, working with at-risk youth. Today, she is a lead teacher at Community Action of East Central Indiana (CAECI), a Head Start program for Richmond, Indiana.

McCracken says she grew up wanting to become a teacher so she could be a positive influence on children living in adverse circumstances like the ones she had overcome.

“Knowledge is power,” she says.

McCracken teaches pre-K and kindergarten, and some of her students, she says, come from troubled families. Many children’s parents are addicted to drugs.

“We focus on positive discipline and life skills,” she says. “It’s early education. Instead of me trying to keep kids out of trouble, and going down the wrong road like I was, I’m reaching them early enough to prevent them from getting there. It’s all about teaching them a love of learning and respect. That’s the big difference.”

For her service to her community, McCracken, who is also president of AFSCME Local 2077 (Indiana-Kentucky Council 962), is a winner of our union’s Never Quit Service Award, which recognizes public service workers who go above and beyond the call of duty to make their communities better.

Cynthia Howard, a co-worker who nominated McCracken, says McCracken doesn’t stop at her job.

“She is always helping others in need, giving back, caring, listening,” Howard says. “She’s been through a lot of stuff, and so everybody is always coming to her for advice. Despite whatever challenge she may be going through, she is always going to help you. She is always doing more for others. She is non-stop.”

McCracken raised 14 children, including three foster daughters. For almost 26 years, she worked two or even three jobs to make ends meet. Today, in her early 40s, with most of her children grown up, she feels she can “take a little bit of a break.”

“It’s been a road,” she says, reflecting back on her life. “And I love that I can help others get to where they need to be. A lot of the parents whose children I teach are single parents and sometimes all they need is a little bit of help or guidance. I can be that person for them.”

To McCracken, the reason she helps those around her is self-evident.

“If I can do something about a situation to make it better, then it just seems like a given,” she says. “Why wouldn’t I? If I can do something and don’t, then it’s a disservice to everyone. … I do it because it’s the right thing to do.”

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