ATLANTA — Johnathon Hines knows the dedication and passion it takes to be a teacher. He knows how difficult it can be to come into a classroom every day and inspire young minds.
He also knows how rewarding it can be when he does inspire. And, now, he's inspiring not just through his teaching, but as a trailblazer.
Hines, a pre-K instructor at Barack Obama Elementary School in Atlanta, is the first black man to be recognized as Georgia's Pre-K Teacher of the Year.
He said he hopes he can use his own story as an example to his young students.
"Now I have the opportunity to inspire other males in early childhood. And that's definitely one of my biggest goals," Hines said. "I know how hard it is to be a teacher. The love and passion that you have to have to come in the classroom every single day. It's definitely a calling, and that is my calling."
Hines feels there's nothing better than teaching a child to love to learn, and he does it unconventionally.
Singalongs, dancing, and energy are the hallmarks of Hines' classroom. In fact, he often outdoes the energy of the 4-year-olds in his class.
"Cause I feel like when a child is engaged, the more they will learn," he explained. "When I was in school I didn't really enjoy the story, or the story was boring. Pre-K is the first year a child will experience school, so I want their first encounter to be a loving, nurturing encounter. And also allow them to have fun and still be a 4-year-old."
"What I love most about my job is seeing the growth in my children," he added. "Sometimes students come in being only able to recognize a few letters. But by May they are able to write their first and last names, read a short story. But even grow as a person. They develop self-confidence. They develop social and emotional skills. The growth is really important in pre-K."
He said his cherishes every interaction he has with each student.
"They mean the world," he said. "I have 22 students and all 22 are like my own child."
Hines said he understands how significant it was to be the first black man to be considered the best teacher for his grade level in the state.
He said he hopes it serves as an inflection point for other men joining the teaching ranks.
"I have the opportunity to inspire other males to get inside of the classroom," he said. "It speaks volumes because there's so many teachers in the state of Georgia and to be the number one pre-K teacher means a lot."