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T.C. Clemons: Teachers, the window always left open

Work through a pandemic? Check. Navigate online classrooms? Check. Stay focused and dedicated to a job you love? Also check. It’s no surprise that teachers have shouldered a lot of weight through the pandemic and it’s impressive still to see them shine and stay inspirational for their students day after day. Yet one local teacher continues to do so, and her demeanor, reach, and story are all truly inspiring.

If you’ve been around the Cabell County School System for any amount of time, you probably know Mrs. T.C. Her joy is contagious and her passion for caring for young people is unmatched.

Mrs. T.C., or T.C. Clemons, has spent the last 43 years teaching and the last 27 years growing and shaping young minds in the Cabell County school system.

Mrs.T.C. earned her bachelor’s degree from Marshall in 1978, before continuing to earn her master’s degree in special education in 1983.

“What inspired me to be a teacher really wasn’t a what, but rather a lot of amazing teachers who birthed that inspiration and desire deep within my heart to be a teacher and to make a difference in the lives of children as they had done for me,” Mrs. T.C. said. “Teachers who saw everything I could be even if I didn’t yet. As early as first grade, I can remember how special my teachers made me feel.”

Growing up in Williamson, West Virginia, during segregation, Mrs. T.C. attended an all-black school, with both black and white teachers.

“My black teachers were people I attended church with, visited in their homes, taught me in Sunday School, and were also family friends. They were the ones who kept me in check and presented a role model that I could be anything my heart desired. They were a bright light in my life. Little did they know that I had decided I wanted to be just like them. They extended their love and teaching beyond the classroom which shaped the type of teacher I knew I wanted to be to and for my kids (students),” Mrs. T.C. said.

When Mrs. T.C. was in the seventh grade, schools began to integrate, and she then attended an all-white school, which came with a new set of challenges.

“But little did they know I already had a solid foundation and knew who I was. I was blessed with teachers who did not look like me but did what they were called to do. Teachers who came to know my heart and extended their knowledge, love, guidance, and kindness my way who also had a forever effect on the teacher I am today,” Mrs. T.C. said.

Mrs. T.C. moved to Huntington in 1981 to attend Marshall, as Williamson only had a community college and she needed a four-year degree to become a teacher. She was a dedicated and devoted student and worked tirelessly to earn her degree as a single mom with a 3-year-old son.

“I grew up in a small-town community where, ‘It takes a whole village to raise a child,’” Mrs. T.C. said. “My son, Harvey, and I left our village in Williamson and found one here in the form of our Marshall Family. I was determined to assure a good life for him. Leaving Marshall was not an option.”

Her work ethic through school was definitely noticed- her son, Harvey, earned his degree from Marshall as well. And while the Marshall community is a family, Mrs. T.C. thinks of her students as family as well.

“My passion for them is sealed within the deepest part of my heart gently and securely wrapping them there for the rest of my life,” Mrs. T.C. said. “I become the Momma of many students who have never experienced love from a teasing tan caramel teacher, yet they readily and willingly receive my love and guidance and trust that I want the best for their lives.”

Through her current 43 year journey of teaching, Mrs. T.C. has impacted thousands of students’ lives. She said her influence doesn’t stop when the clock hits 3 p.m. or after school, and reminds all teachers and future teachers that they may never fully know the reach of their impact.

“You will become the window that is always left open. You, the window where your kids come to say ‘hello,’ ‘I love you,’ ‘thanks,’ for laughs, to plan Dairy Queen dates where they pay, to show you their grades good or bad, and for advice. You, the window where they come to shed tears, to share about their new love, new job, show off the new baby, invite you to graduation and their wedding. You, the window where they come to ask for prayer, receive and give hugs, take selfies, hang out, and at times ask to climb through your window because they will need you to tightly wrap your arms around them until your heartbeats become one in the same. You always keep the window to your heart open. The learning will happen. I promise.”

Mrs. T.C. currently teaches at Highlawn Elementary in Huntington and emphasizes to her students in caring for each other that, “there is always room for one more.”

“This journey is all about the students. The students who you get to be on this journey with will forever be etched in your heart for the things you do to make sure they matter. It is not always going to be the big things you do for your kids that they will remember, but rather the little things. The little things you did at that very moment may turn out to be the very thing that sets them on the right path now and or later in their lives.”

Mrs. T.C. was honored as the Cabell County Teacher of the Year in 2019 and considers being a teacher in the community her calling.

“I give back to the Huntington community because they gave to me as a single mom seeking the love of family. They extended their love to me and my son when we were missing our home,” Mrs. T.C. said. “The Huntington community entrusted me with their children in and out of school and provided many opportunities for me to be a light within the community where everybody knows my name, and for that I am most grateful.”