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Perspective | A teacher’s legacy: Inspiring can-do kids

Nearly 11 years ago, my oldest daughter, Morgan, received a heartwarming voicemail from her kindergarten teacher at Irwin Academic Center in Charlotte. School hadn’t started yet, but Mrs. Brandy Daniels wanted to welcome Morgan and make her feel at ease.

We met Mrs. Daniels at the open house, and she instantly calmed our nerves, reassuring us that there was nothing to worry about. She was right. Three years later, my wife and I hoped our youngest daughter, Olivia, a rising kindergartner, would also have Mrs. Daniels. Our wish was granted.

Mrs. Daniels with Olivia Winston. Courtesy of Earnest Winston

We made a point of stopping by Mrs. Daniels’ classroom on the last day of elementary school for each girl to express our appreciation. After more than 30 years as an educator in Charlotte and Wisconsin, she retired in 2022, Olivia’s last year at Irwin.

Mrs. Daniels recently passed away, but her legacy and heart for children live on. We deeply revered her not only for her enormous dedication and impact but also for the way she embodied the spirit of all educators who work tirelessly to shape young minds. This respect extends to bus drivers, cafeteria workers, counselors, custodians, administrators, and all support staff who play a crucial role in our children’s education.

Though we hadn’t seen Mrs. Daniels since her retirement, she was never far from our thoughts. She called her students “can-do kids,” helping them approach challenges with confidence, demonstrate resilience, and maintain a strong belief in their ability to succeed.

Mrs. Daniels was born in Milwaukee. Anyone who knew her knew she was born to be a teacher. Her passion for teaching was evident in everything she did.

We will miss her deeply and remember the unwavering support she continued to give our girls, even after they were no longer her students. She made it a point to show up at their events outside of school.

That’s why it was important for our family to show up for her one last time at her services.

We will always cherish the wonderful memories she created for her students and their families: the grandparents project, Miss Spider’s Tea Party, the Christmas parties at her home, her dedicated service on the school improvement team, and her coordination of the school’s Black History Month programs. Her school spirit was unmatched.

“Teaching has always been a passion for me. I have a love for learning and look forward to sharing that with your children,” she once wrote in a beginning-of-school message to her students’ families. “I strive to have a classroom with a safe environment, a place for students to flourish and grow academically as well as socially.”

Mrs. Daniels — a devoted fan of the Green Bay Packers and Carolina Panthers — and her husband, Reuben, have three children.

Our girls were among the thousands of other can-do kids she inspired over her distinguished career teaching kindergarten and first grade.

A renowned North Carolina poet once said that while people might forget your words and actions, they will always remember the emotions you stirred in them.

Thank you, Mrs. Daniels, for easing the anxieties of your students’ parents. Thank you for always making your students feel welcome, making learning fun and engaging, and helping them grow and achieve at high levels. Thank you for challenging them and for the lasting impact you’ve made on their lives by helping them overcome obstacles with a can-do spirit.

Although it’s summertime, let’s not wait until Teacher Appreciation Week in May to thank the teachers and staff members who positively shape our children’s lives.

Earnest J. Winston

Earnest J. Winston is an educational consultant and a former superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS). He has also worked as a journalist, covering education, growth and development, and county government. Winston began his career in education as an English teacher at Julius L. Chambers High School (formerly Vance) in CMS. He holds a BA in journalism from Ohio Wesleyan University and a Master of School Administration from UNC-Charlotte.