Decades of Developing Young Minds

Teresa Carter celebrates 36 years of teaching at Day Early Learning

Each morning, Ms. Teresa greets her young learners with a warm smile that never seems to disappear. She reassures young moms with a confidence that comes from nearly four decades of caring for and educating children at Early Learning Indiana’s Day Early Learning centers. She knows all of the words to the “school song” and can sing them with pride. Ms. Teresa is an icon of what early education is all about.

Ms. Teresa began her career in early childhood education 36 years ago as a substitute teacher at the Day Nursery in Wishard Hospital. She was part of a pilot program of Day Nursery workers that attended Ivy Tech to receive a degree in early childhood education. She taught at the Wishard Hospital location until 2002 when the hospital shut its doors, and then transitioned to the Day Early Learning center at Fort Harrison.

“At first, I started working in early education because it was a job, and I was in need of a job,” said Teresa. “But Day Early Learning quickly became my family, and the children became my love.”

Through her tenured history in child care, she has seen many changes. There are a lot more assessments, and she says paperwork is demanding. But parents are engaged in new ways, and there are a variety of learning tools available to teachers, including various forms of technology. Ms. Teresa still favors some of the traditional ways of teaching. For example, on Grandparents’ Day last month, she helped her two-year-old students make cookies for their grandmothers and grandfathers. “It gives the kids hands-on experience in making something they can share,” says Ms. Teresa. “Not only are they learning about counting and measuring, they are also learning about gratitude and helping others.”

Her most memorable moments involve the children who were the most challenging. She readily shares stories about a young immigrant from Haiti who struggled to learn English and was unfamiliar with American traditions. She helped his family find resources to assist with the transition to a new country. One of her fondest memories is watching the boy adapt and flourish in his new surroundings. She also speaks of Ethan, a young boy with Down Syndrome. His infectious personality won her heart. “He was so tiny and would always try to slip out of the room. We put bells on his shoes, so we could always know where he was.” She laughs out loud and wonders how he’s doing today.

She often thinks of her past students and wonders where their lives have taken them. A great big smile spreads across her face as she discusses her greatest accomplishment – “that we instill for the children to be the best that they can be. Even though they are only two years old, we want them to know that they are well-loved and have the potential to be whatever they want to be,” said Ms. Teresa.

It is easy to see that Teresa’s love of children infuses every part of her being. Her passion for young children transcends her professional life into her personal life where she and her husband spent years as foster parents, taking care of young children whose parents battled addiction and who were born dependent on drugs. Five years ago, they adopted siblings, a little boy and little girl, out of the foster system. And like the children she teaches each day, they know they are well-loved and full of potential.

After 36 years in a career she has cherished, Ms. Teresa looks to the future. She knows her own children need a greater investment of her time and energy as they grow. But she can’t help but be satisfied, knowing she has impacted so many young lives over several decades. “I love hearing stories about the children’s success as they grow up. It makes you feel good to know that we are their earliest influence.” She says with a voice of pride. “I had a part in that.”

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