Chelsea Haley says Jerome Robinson's behavior got so bad that she didn't want to be a teacher anymore.
What begins as an optimistic dream of making a difference in students' lives quickly turns grim when teachers actually enter the field. The thankless job means you will be grossly underpaid even when you are required to work extra hours. Things get worse when your students are unruly and this is exactly what Chelsea Haley was facing while teaching fourth grade at "Teach For America" in Louisiana. For Haley, her student Jerome Robinson was the bane of her career. "At certain points, his behavior got so bad. I thought, 'I can't do this anymore. I can't be a teacher,'" she told CNN.
Haley, who was a chairwoman of the College Republicans at the University of Georgia, used to intern on Capitol Hill. While sitting on one such meeting about education policy, she had an epiphany and joined the nonprofit organization right after graduation with the hope of making a difference in the lives of children who attended low-income schools. Eventually, she arrived at an elementary school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but never in her wildest dreams did she expect to meet a student as problematic as Jerome. But somehow, in the struggle to control the 12-year-old Haley managed to gain his trust.
The two got so close that other teachers would send Jerome to Haley's classroom, where she would make sure he finished his task. "I got a lot of thankful emails and knocks on my door," she recalled. The biggest reason behind their close-knit relationship was the fact that Haley finally learned why her student was so unruly. The student had a tough time at home, where he lived with his birth mother and newborn brother, Jace. "It was really hard on her after she lost her husband," said the teacher explaining the situation of the 12-year-old's mother, who had also lost a little girl.
"It was just a combination of tragedy coupled with the other social situations you face when you live in poverty," she added. Jerome and Jace both moved around a lot and "spent a lot of time living with their grandparents." By 2015, Haley was done with her two-year Teach For America obligation but she couldn't bring herself to quit just yet. Even the school's principal suggested she stick around for Jerome's sake and Haley signed up for a third year as a special education teacher without hesitation. The one October night she felt that she was destined to be the boy's mother.
Initially, she laughed it off thinking it was a preposterous idea. However, the following day at school, the teacher was overcome with a peaceful feeling while sitting next to Jerome who was answering a test. That's when he asked her a question. "He just asked me if he could live with me. I told him I had been feeling the same thing," she recalled. The next day, the teacher went out to have dinner with Jerome, Jace, and their mother. As Haley explained, she was finishing her third year at school and that she would return to Georgia soon, the boys' mother told Haley, "You can go back but I want you to take Jerome and Jace with you."
"I never thought I'd be a single mom at age 24, especially of two boys, one of which was my 12-year-old student. And the other one who was only a year-and-a-half," she said. By December 2015, Haley had already filed papers for permanent custody of Jerome, then later filed papers to adopt Jace as well. "You have to be 12 years older than somebody to obtain custody of them, and I am 12 years and three months older than him," she explained. To ensure, her boys had a stable life, the new mother used the money from her retirement plan for a down payment on a house. During the 2018 interview, Haley was a middle school teacher in Marietta, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta.
Per Goalcast, she had to use credit cards and get extra jobs to provide for her two sons. Now, all her debts have been paid off and Haley says the effort was well worth it. As for Jerome, his life has considerably improved since the move. "[Jerome] has not gotten any suspensions or anything, which is a huge improvement from life in Louisiana," said Haley. "He used to fail all of his classes and just didn't care. Now he has made the honor roll both quarters of his eighth-grade year so far." Haley, who is thriving as a teacher and a mother, added, "I always knew I wanted to be a mom and I wouldn't trade this for anything."
Cover image source: GoFundMe | Jerome and Jace’s School