Sunshine Lady

“I’m really glad you’re back,” she said quietly behind the mask that hid her smile as she zipped up her backpack and prepared to exit the classroom. There had been signs before today. Like when she showed up for class four hours early. Or when, despite her school pivoting to virtual due to an outbreak, showing up anyway because of her excitement about that day’s lesson. So yeah, in my heart, I had known for a while. But today? Today it was solidified.


When coronavirus abruptly halted my year of recognition/service as the Arkansas State Teacher of the Year roughly four months too soon, I welcomed the pause with a heavy heart. The months preceding it had been filled with the highest highs and the lowest of lows. Multiple family deaths, extensive travel, overtly racist encounters, toxic politics, state-sanctioned violence, a constant demanding of my time and exploitation of my newfound title juxtaposed against standing ovations, first-class upgrades, my opinion suddenly mattering, and the extreme pride of and for me in black and brown eyes had taken its toll. I was grieving and not just for the family members I lost back-to-back-to-back, but also for the things and people I had outgrown and the students I left behind.


This year I’ve apologized to my students more than I have my entire teaching career.

I am mad and heartbroken that teachers in my district and state have been mandated since August to teach face to face from people who work from the comfort of offices closed to the public and who conduct their meetings and most of their business virtually. As I sit behind my desk masked up and constantly hand sanitized, I tell them who I am today is not the teacher I used to be, the one they’ve heard about, who they thought they’d get, or the teacher they deserve to have right now. “It’s okay, Mrs. Mc. We’re in a pandemic. You’re not getting the best me either,” I’m told by a student who loves to show me pictures of her artwork and cat from 10 feet away.

The theme for this year’s Holocaust Remembrance Day was “Be the light in the darkness.” That class period, I taught a mini-lesson on the Nazi Persecution and the genocide in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur, and the millions of people today who face prejudice, discrimination, and violence simply because of the skin they were born in. (I don’t think I mentioned it before, but I teach high school juniors and seniors who aspire to become educators.) We examined all of these atrocities in the context of their impact on children and education. Afterward, the students were tasked with writing a poem about the theme or the power of words. I am still unsure which one moved me more, the thank you notes I received for teaching them poetry and about challenging* things or the poetry like the one below by my dear, sweet, beautiful, brilliant student Ja’Meya Johnson whose poem reminded me of why I #LoveTeaching.

Be the light in darkness

by Ja'Meya Johnson

Light in the darkness, I shall be

Paving the way for the new generation,

This light I will be, shall help them see,

Light in the darkness, I shall be

We can light the way together, you and me,

Lighting the way for our nation,

Light in the darkness, I shall be

Paving the way for the new generation.


Before returning in mid-January, I had been out of the classroom for practically a year and a half.

“I’m really glad you’re back,” she said quietly behind the mask that hid her smile as she zipped up her backpack and prepared to exit the classroom. There had been signs before today. In my heart, I had known it for a while. But today? Today it was solidified, and I remembered my why. It is, was, and has always been the children.

As I turned off the light and closed the door, I smiled a real smile. The sparkle in my eye conjured up 1986’s Latimore. I instantly transformed and became his Sunshine Lady. And when I walked down the street, flowers grew beneath my feet. La la la la la. Sunshine Lady.

*The reference to the challenging lessons taught was not only regarding the Holocaust lesson, but also about previous lessons a few days before on the insurrection at the Capitol, followed by one on the two proposed pieces of Arkansas legislation (HB1218, HB1231) that attempted to prohibit the offering of courses, activities, or events about a particular race, gender, political affiliation or particular class or that promotes social justice or the teaching of the 1619 Project.

Stacey James McAdoo, the 2019 Arkansas Teacher of the Year (affectionately referred to as 2019ATOY), is the sponsor of the spoken word collective called Writeous Poets from Little Rock, Arkansas. For seventeen years she served as an Oral Communications instructor and AVID Coordinator at the historic Little Rock Central High School. She currently teaches Educators Rising (a class for high school upperclassmen who aspire to become teachers), is the lead Secondary Novice Teacher Mentor for the Little Rock School District and is an adjunct instructor in UCA’s Teaching and Learning Department where she continues to be the living embodiment of her ATOY platform of using passion and poetry to close the opportunity gap. She is also the creator and host of the education podcast “A Mile in My Shoes: The Walk and Talk Podcast.” Visit her blog at www.stillstacey.com to learn more.


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