"I'm sharing this award with all the other African American male teachers in the state of Texas," he said.
Eric Hale is no stranger to abuse and poverty. Having grown up with a mother who struggled with drug addiction and a stepfather who had schizophrenia, the 40-year-old knows exactly how heavy a toll such circumstances can take on a child. "I know how hard it is to go to school when you're hungry," he told TODAY. "I know how hard it is to go to school and focus when you saw your mom get beat by your stepdad last night. I know how hard it is to go to school when other kids say you smell bad, but you know it's because your water was shut off last week."
Eric Hale is the first Black man named Texas Teacher of the Year: "I’m not the first to deserve it" https://t.co/ZLV55u8g35— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) October 14, 2020
This knowledge is exactly what has helped shape his emotional approach when dealing with his students and what has how now earned him the title of the 2021 Texas Teacher of the Year. Although it is the latest in a string of accolades, this particular honor holds a special significance to Hale as he is the first Black man to ever receive the award in the state of Texas. "I'm the first to win it, but I'm not the first to deserve it," he told The Washington Post.
Hale, who teaches first and second grade at David G. Burnet Elementary School in Dallas, stressed that while he is extremely grateful for the award, the recognition was a long time coming. "I'm the first winner — I'm not the first African American male teacher in Texas that deserved it," he said. "So it's about the 'we,' not the 'me.' I'm sharing this award with all the other African American male teachers in the state of Texas." 98% of students at Hale's school are Hispanic of which most are living at the poverty level. Acutely aware of the challenges faced by these children, this educator has always made it a point to go above and beyond for his students.
I was raised by a single mom who was a public school teacher. Everyone needs a teacher who goes the extra mile and for many at David G. Burnett, that teacher is Mr. Eric Hale. Congrats on becoming the first black man to be named Texas Teacher of the Year! https://t.co/JqNqI5LQNc— Rep. Colin Allred (@RepColinAllred) October 10, 2020
From texting with their parents after school hours to brainstorming fundraisers on the weekends, and creating YouTube lessons throughout the summer because he felt his students got cheated when the pandemic cut their in-person school year short, Hale believes that being an educator is about far more than teaching letters and numbers. "I am a teacher because I'm chasing the ghost of the educator I needed as a child," he explained. "My mission is to make sure that children that are going through poverty and traumatic experiences get the hope they need."
This math teacher just made history as the first Black man to become Texas Teacher of the Year.— AJ+ (@ajplus) October 10, 2020
Eric Hale had a difficult childhood, so he wants to ensure his students have it easier. pic.twitter.com/GltG5KRT7j
"I was in and out of women’s shelters," Hale recalled. "My mom eventually had a nervous breakdown." The lack of stability and support resulted in him struggling in school and although his teachers pitied him, none made an effort to harness his potential. "All I ever received was sympathy, which eventually turned into apathy," he said. "I needed action. I needed accountability." Hale's childhood best friend, Delrick Self, revealed that Hale was one of the few to make it out of the economically challenged, high-crime neighborhood in which they grew up.
"When you come out of the environment he’s from, either it consumes you or you rise above it. There’s really no middle," he said. "Basically, everyone who grew up there is dead or in jail." Hale eventually got his life back on track after moving in with his grandmother in Portland in seventh grade but he never forgot the feeling of wanting a guiding hand. When he began teaching at David G. Burnet Elementary School more than a decade ago, his unconventional teaching style and his steadfast dedication to his students and their families quickly caught parents' attention.
Full circle 2. Sorry for tears but that’s 40 years of the beautiful struggle called life. pic.twitter.com/GDapXUtpnN— Eric hale (@Erichale1979) October 2, 2020
"The impact he has had on our campus is huge," said Sonia Loskot, who has been the principal of the school for seven years. "He knows what it means to be hungry. If a child is hungry, he will do whatever it takes to feed that child. He’s been out there when our kids have lost their homes to fires. He takes parents to shelters. He has always stood out to me. He is a fighter for children."