Tina Medina and family

Pictured are Tina and Michael Medina, their son and their dog, Tags.

For Tina Medina, teaching is all about relationships.

Not her early exposure as a teacher’s helper, nor her classroom experience in high school, and not even her college courses prepared her for the connections that have turned into lifelong friendships.

Tina Medina – “I married into a name that rhymes, my parents didn’t give it to me,” she laughs – teaches fifth graders at River Oaks Elementary School where she’s the teacher of the year.

And for several reasons, teaching is not what she expected.

When she was in the early grades back in Dayton, Ohio, she was “teacher’s pet,” and got to spend lunch hours grading papers and hanging out with the teachers.

“I listened to their stories and it was cool, it was fun. I had that red pen, and I got to each lunch with the teachers.”

In high school, she got a real behind-the-scenes look at working with kids, still helping out, and even being a “big sister” with the local boys and girls club.

Then in college, “they set you up for how to execute a lesson, but you don’t have any kids yet,” she explains.

“Now I’m in it, I’ve been in it for 17 years. These are my kids, and the relationships I’ve made are not replaceable.”

Some of the students she taught in fifth grade are now married and still in touch. So are the ones asking her for her seal of approval when they apply to college, or when they look for jobs.

“The relationships are what have made this job not a job,” she says.

And that’s a huge part of what she didn’t expect to be part of her career.

She also didn’t expect being an educator to come from her heart as much as from her head.

“Executing a lesson plan and being done is 100% not true,” she says.

“It might go on for days because there’s a student who needs extra support.

“You do everything you can to make sure you deliver something in an engaging way so these kids can be successful in the future.

“When I’m not teaching, I’m still thinking about my kids, what to do in my classroom, how to make my lesson plans better than what I have on paper, looking for ways to engage them that’ll be fun for them.”

That time when she’s not teaching is quite limited because on weekends, she teaches online with VIPKID, teaching English and math to kids in China.

Medina and her husband Michael, a musician with Diversity, “a band that gigs up and down Myrtle Beach,” have a third-grade son and a dog, Tags.

“He loves sports and keeps us going,” she says about their son. “We go from basketball to soccer to baseball, and he’s a diehard Clemson fan. He also plays the drums and loves Michael Jackson,” she says, with a mother’s pride all over her smile.

When the family has time off from work or making sure their son gets to his activities, “we stay home,” she says.

Except, that is, when she’s traveling.

Before her parents moved locally, she went back and forth to Ohio to visit them. She’s traveled out West, and the family’s gone back to visit Michael Medina’s homeplace in Puerto Rico.

When she thinks about the future, it includes being an administrator but she says, “I’ll never be done teaching.

“I would love it if as an administrator, I would be invited into the classroom to read to students or help a new teacher co-teach.

“Teaching is a passion, it’s not just a job.”

She adds that not being the teacher’s pet, not helping out in the high school classroom, not even college, really prepared her for the rewards of teaching.

“I didn’t expect this profession to impact me the way it has,” she says. “I truly love my students. This profession is amazing and ever-changing, and I get to be a part of that.

“My day changes every day from the minute I step in the door. Every day is new. Who else can say that?”

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