HAMLET — Karen Allen is the principal at Hamlet Middle School and she has a problem that many principals only wish they had.
She has two substitute teachers, Jaiden Tillman and Caroline Whitley, who have taken root in the growing system that is the Richmond County Schools and have worked to become exceptional additions to Allen’s staff.
“Both Jaiden and Caroline have been working very hard to become part of the teaching team here at Hamlet Middle,” said Allen. “With the current teacher shortage, they fill a need, they take on all the responsibilities of a traditional teacher and they are a great fit for the Richmond County Schools because with them, we are growing our own students into teachers of tomorrow.”
Tillman has a personality that lights up the room. While attending UNC-Pembroke, Tillman needed some extra hours for a Special Education class he was taking and went to Allen to see if she could help him out.
“I needed these hours and Mrs. Allen said no problem,” said Tillman. “Last May, I came back and Mrs. Allen said that she was still had the need for substitute teachers so she presented me to the board, got me approved and then I came to work.”
Tillman — who was born in Rockingham, raised in Hamlet and attended Hamlet Middle as a student — says that he loves teaching and it comes so natural it’s as if he’s never worked a day in his life. He gives a great deal of the credit to his mother, Courtney Tillman, and his father, Darren Green, for teaching him the value of respect.
“My mom is an ISS teacher and a bus driver at Richmond Senior and while growing up, I would watch her as developed relationships with the kids on her bus and I take that into the classroom with me,” said Tillman.
Tillman said that he knew he was in the right place doing the right job last November.
“It was the day of Thanksgiving break and before I released my homeroom class for the holiday, I told them I wanted them to enjoy the holiday, to enjoy their family, to be safe and to make it back in one piece that following Monday,” said Tillman.
“Soon afterwards, the bell rang and as the students left, I began to feel emotional. I went over to my co-teacher (Melissa Briggs) and I began to cry,” he continued. “After composing myself, I told her that the reason I was crying was because I was afraid that something was going to happen my kids and I wanted them safe and I wanted to see them when they come back.
“That made me realize that I’m in the right spot — because I care. I’m not one of those individuals who go to work just to get a paycheck, I go to work to build relationships, give instruction and I want the students to know that even if no one cares for them, I certainly do.”
Whitley comes to Hamlet Middle daily with fresh ideas for her students.
“Caroline is always learning,” said Allen. “What she learns Tuesday or Thursday at UNCP, she brings to school on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. She is always ready to face the next challenge.”
Whitley was born and raised in Rockingham and attended Rockingham Middle School. Her mother Kelly worked in Richmond County Schools for 27 years at L.J. Bell and Washington Street and currently works as a media specialist at Laurel Hill Elementary. Her father Kevin is a general manager with Cheerwine in Wilmington and her brother Will is a student at Richmond Senior and will be entering RCC’s Duke Energy program in the fall.
She comes to teaching at Hamlet Middle with a grit forged on the soccer field.
“When I first graduated,” said Whitley, “I was attending Methodist University playing on a soccer scholarship. However, after ending up with two major surgeries in the first couple of months of my career, I decided to take a step back and wound up transferring to UNCP.”
After working as a teacher’s assistant at Laurel Hill Elementary, she found her calling.
“I knew I wanted to be a teacher and I needed to step up. My aunt, Michelle Burns, said that Mrs. Allen was looking for substitutes, so here I am.”
Whitley says the one thing she likes about teaching is helping others.
“When I first entered college, I had intentions of being a nurse, however I realized I wanted to help others but not in the way a nurse does. I wanted to give back to something that had helped me.”
She said that of all the teachers she had during her formative school years, that two stand out — Ms. Suzanne Marie Duffy Hudson and Michelle Eastwick Raffon.
“They taught me history in a way I could relate,” said Whitley.
Whitley mentioned a two moments this year that have stuck with her.
“We were discussing Christopher Columbus and the kids were shocked to find that he landed in the Bahamas and not in America. In science, we were discussing the difference between the larynx and the pharynx and the division between the two parts. One student said, ‘Oh, that’s what it means when something goes down, the wrong pipe.’ Those are two ‘“’wow’ moments that stand out for me.”
According to Allen, both teachers are working hard daily to give their best to Hamlet Middle.
“Both Jaiden and Caroline work with a purpose daily,” said Allen. “Even though they are quite young, they are both filling positions of responsibility that are vital to Hamlet Middle and to Richmond County Schools.”