Ashley Kincannon, an English teacher from Arkansas, and Arun Puracken, a social studies teacher from Maryland, are early career educators (those within their first 10 years of teaching) who took different paths into the profession. Kincannon went through a college education program, while Puracken first taught provisionally and then earned an alternative certification. Along the way, they each received help in becoming the great teacher/advocates they are today. Here are their stories.
Kincannon is a fifth-year teacher at Lake Hamilton Junior High School in Pearcy, Ark., and she isn’t shy about sharing how her childhood was “unhappy [because of] a dysfunctional family background.” At 17, unable to tolerate her home life, she left and moved in with her boyfriend. When she graduated high school, she was nine months pregnant and married. Today, the couple have two children. Many said Kincannon would never amount to anything. But her teachers believed in her.
“My teachers were always kind,” she says. “They breathed life into me because I wasn’t getting that from anyone else,” says Kincannon, who attended a public high school in Jessieville, Ark.
Her teachers provided more than just emotional support. Like all great teachers, they set her on a path toward success. Two, in particular, encouraged Kincannon to pursue the teaching profession. “To hear someone tell me I could be a teacher and to know these teachers cared about me—because of them, I became a teacher,” she says.
After earning an English degree in secondary education, Kincannon became a teacher in 2013. She immediately connected with mentors who guided, encouraged, and reaffirmed her practice. “I sometimes needed a little support and encouragement. As a young, novice teacher, you’re a minority surrounded by seasoned educators. It’s sometimes scary, but it was helpful to have support from mentors,” Kincannon explains.
To hear someone tell me I could become a teacher and to know these teachers care about me – because of them I became a teacher – Ashley Kincannon, English teacher, Arkansas
The Arkansas Education Association (AEA) supports her, too. Kincannon became a member of her state association last year when she met AEA leaders who recognized her talent and passion, and encouraged her to join.
Kincannon was an AEA student member, but didn’t continue her membership. “I wanted to join AEA because I loved the consistency of community, the support, the education I was receiving, and the wisdom passed on to me about my profession as a student member,” she says. “But, I [thought] I had to pay the full dues amount up front. When I learned I could pay monthly, I decided to join and dove in head first.” She attended district meetings, became a building representative, and started networking with other members.
Kincannon’s experience as a young, first-year teacher, and the support she received, motivated her to support other early career educators. During the 2017 AEA Delegate Assembly she introduced one new business item to support educators who are new to the profession but seasoned in life, and another urging support for educators under the age of 35. Both passed and the work to support these groups is underway.
Kincannon says, “If we don’t create a place where early career and young educators can see themselves in our association, they may not understand the importance of advocacy or the value of being a member of this professional organization.”
Paying it Forward
Support also helped Maryland’s Arun Puracken, a fourth-year teacher at Accokeek Academy in Prince Georges County, to fully embrace his role as an educator and union member.
In 2016, he applied for, and was selected to participate, via his local, in an Early Career Leadership Fellows program. He became part of a cohort of educators who were new to the profession and unfamiliar with the association.
Since that first experience, Puracken has attended numerous trainings and conferences around the country, tackling topics such as school equity, support for early career educators, and political activism.
“These experiences engage early career educators to be the next union leader,” says Puracken, “and they’re investing in me. I get to go to different places and converse with other colleagues in different areas of the country to talk about public education. [“It’s what helped me] learn about what it meant to do union work and why it’s important.”
Like Kincannon, who was encouraged throughout her profession and is now actively engaged in her association, Puracken is paying it forward, too.
“These experiences engage early career educators to be the next union leader …and they’re investing in me.” – Arun Puracken, Social Studies teacher, Maryland
Last fall, there was a vacancy to fill a building representative position. Although he was hesitant to apply, says Puracken, he adds, “I had no choice. I’m being flown out to different places for union work to learn what it takes to be a leader, and here’s an opportunity to be a leader in my building. I had to take ownership.”
But all of that was just the beginning. Puracken is now running for a school board seat, with the support of the Prince Georges County Education Association, the Maryland State Education Association, and NEA. “I’ve been supported with all kinds of association workshops,” he says, “and I’m going to be the example of policy that works for students, educators, and families.”
Together, Kincannon and Puracken are proof of how support can keep new teachers in the classroom, and empower them to make a lasting difference in students’ lives.