Good Shepherd day care teacher paying it forward

Published 12:01 pm Wednesday, March 16, 2011

If it wasn’t for one teacher, Darlene Burns said she would’ve likely dropped out of high school at 17 years old. Now, she is trying to be that one teacher for someone else.

Burns has been a day care teacher for 30 years. Her career began in her hometown of New Orleans but, after Hurricane Katrina, she and her family relocated to Vicksburg and she began teaching at Good Shepherd Community Center. With the many changes she has endured, she said children have been one of the most consistent factors in her life.

“I’ve always had trust issues, but these kids have taught me how to trust again. That’s the beauty of a child,” Burns, 53, said.

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Her class consists of 3-year-olds. As a teacher, Burns said, her main goal is to develop their reading skills. However, her role doesn’t end at educator.

“Many inner-city kids have young mothers, addicted parents and so on,” Burns said. “Every day, we have circle time to let them vent. In some instances, I was as troubled as some of these kids. I’m trying to give back.”

Burns said her troubles began at a young age, and escalated during her junior year of high school.

“I was depressed and had been drugged by some alleged friends of mine. It gave me a hopeless feeling, and I just stopped going to class,” she said. “Then my drama teacher, Miss Hill, called me and asked, ‘What’s your problem? Is your leg broken? Your arm? Your foot?’

“I remember crying on the phone to her, and then I went back. Everyone’s had a teacher that made a difference in their lives,” she said.

Her approach toward teaching is rooted in love, she said, something she feels her students need more than anything. This principle is evident during class time: students call her Darlene instead of Mrs. Burns and, when a child misbehaves, she regains order by simply saying, “Look at this face. Does this face look like it wants to be upset?”

“I also have to be really firm sometimes. Day care classes have to be more intense now because kids are failing kindergarten,” Burns said. “Requirements are going up because the school system is having to catch up.”

One of the hurdles Burns said she faces is parental support: “I feel like some parents aren’t interested because nobody is interested in them.”

Annie Grant, 28, Burns’ teaching assistant, said that Burns is a role model for more than just the 3-year-olds.

“I gain strength from watching her. We both have health problems, but she has taught me that if she can be here, so can I,” Grant said.

Perhaps the greatest recipient of Burns’ care is her son, Ivan, 12.

“He told me he loves me because he can talk to me. We love to dance together. We love to cook together. I told him, ‘I can’t teach you how to be a man, but I can teach you how to treat a woman,’” she said.

Burns insisted that the teaching goes both ways.

“Children are the best teachers,” she said. “With them, I will always have faith.”