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Brookhaven’s teacher of year says job is a calling

Kathleen Black planned for a career in business. And God laughed.

Black, a fourth-grade math teacher at Brookhaven Elementary School, recently earned recognition as the Brookhaven School District’s Teacher of the Year.

“The feeling is overwhelming,” she said. “I’m just honored to represent every teacher and principal who has always supported and believed in my efforts.”

Black is a stern and disciplined educator, who also can be heard singing with her students to make learning numbers fun in her classroom.

But that wasn’t her goal when she graduated Brookhaven High in 1996.

She headed to Copiah-Lincoln Community College then transferred to Jackson State University. She majored in accounting for her bachelor’s degree then studied business administration through the University of Phoenix for her master’s degree.

God led her to a substitute teacher’s position at Mamie Martin Elementary. Teaching wasn’t in her plan.

“It wasn’t my decision,” she said. “It’s just where God placed me. He said, “This is what I want you to do.”

After a few days at Mamie Martin, she was hooked.

“I realized that teaching was a part of my career after my first week of substitute teaching at Mamie Martin Elementary School,” she said.

She was a sub, then a teacher’s assistant, and now a teacher. She received her teaching credentials from Mississippi College.

She accomplished that while also working the past 15 years at the Walmart Distribution Center and raising three children — Rodney Bridgeforth a senior at Brookhaven High School, Kaitlyn Bridgeforth, a BHS sophomore, and Pierce Bridgeforth, an eighth-grader at Alexander Junior High.

Black and her children are faithful members of Damascus M.B. Church where the children sing in the choir. Rodney, Kaitlyn and Pierce are also involved in school activities. Rodney participates in band, gaming club and venture scouts. Kaitlyn is a cheerleader and praise dancer. Pierce plays football at AJH and is a power lifter.

Rodney and Kaitlyn are both active community volunteers.

She’s worked in the school district for 12 years and though she started in language arts, math is her forte.

“I love the challenge of figuring out the answers.  I always want to figure it out,” she said.

Deputy Superintendent Rod Henderson said Black is an example of how hard work and determination can carry someone far in their career.

“Ms. Black earned a teacher’s certificate and a position in our district a few years ago and has done an excellent job within the classroom with our students,” he said. “I am proud of her development as a teacher and we have no doubt she will represent us extremely well.”

This is Black’s sixth year to teach fourth-graders. She strives to help them reach their full potential.

“I come in work early, I stay at work late, I tutor my students and encourage them in any way that I possibly can,” she said. “When the bright light goes off with a student, we celebrate the moment and quickly move on to the next thing because there is so much more work to be done.”

Black believes her greatest reward is when her former students come to visit and tell her how well they are doing so far.

“Or when my former parents contact me for my opinion on how to deal with certain issues concerning their children (my students),” she said. “The hardest part of my job comes when parents don’t fully understand that I have their child’s best interest at heart.  No one becomes a teacher just for a check. The job requires so much more than just showing up for work. Most of the children really need a hug, a smiley good morning or just a simple, ‘How are you feeling today?’ The job is very emotional and most people don’t realize or understand that fact.”

Outside the classroom, she’s usually involved in a church activity or spending time with her family. She loves to travel and explore cities and hit different eateries with her kids. When she’s at home, she’s glued to dramatic movies and “Criminal Minds.”

The Mississippi Department of Education hosts the Teacher of the Year program to recognize exemplary teachers in the state.