Billy Surface

Education

DISD’s Eric Hale Is One of the Nation’s Best Teachers

And it's partly because of his dancing.

You were just recognized by the Council of the Great City Schools with the Queen Smith Award, given to the top teacher in an urban school in the country. Has it totally gone to your head? Not at all. I don’t even deserve this award. I work in a school where there are some phenomenal educators that I steal from. If you look up who my friends are, they’ve accomplished just as much as I have, maybe more on the national scene. Iron sharpens iron. So we work together for the betterment of all students in Dallas ISD and literally for the state.

You teach kindergarten and first grade. Have you already blown your $5,000 in prize money on wine, women, and Dragon Ball Z stickers? [laughs] I’ve blown my money on a couch that I was making payments on, and I’ve already invested about $300 back into my classroom, buying more centers and more engaging things for them to learn at a high level.

Do you think you could teach me to do open heart surgery? No, but I do feel like I can teach the child that could do your open heart surgery when they become a doctor.

You worked in healthcare management before becoming a teacher. Was your first day in a classroom scary for you? No, my first day in the classroom was one of the best days I ever had. I knew that I had found my true calling and it was where I was meant to be. Teaching in an urban setting like I do, it’s the beautiful struggle.

You ranked in the top 1 percent of DISD teachers in performance. I assume you support TEI, the program that pays the best teachers higher salaries? Probably like .5 percent, actually. I fully support it. In what other profession can you be average to bad and not only keep your job forever but get a 3 percent raise every year? When you start paying educators like true professionals, you’re also raising the accountability standards. Now a teacher like me, who makes what I make, now I can be a lifelong educator. One of the biggest mistakes they made in urban education is paying so low. Why? Because then it forces teachers who should stay in the classroom to get their master’s, to become administrators. Just because you’re a great teacher, that doesn’t mean you’re going to be a great principal. And so we have a lot of ineffective principals in education. They only made that choice because they literally couldn’t afford to feed their families staying in the classroom.

What’s something that most scared, middle-class white people don’t know about DISD? Every school district in the nation is looking at Dallas ISD right now. We are the No. 1 urban school district in America. And if we keep it up, in three years, we’ll just be the No. 1 district in America. Why? Because we’re not scared to be bold. Miracles are happening in Dallas ISD. I mean, just look at the data. It is what it is.

What’s worse for young kids, cellphones and social media or spankings? Cellphones and social media.

I understand that sometimes you dance in front of your class. What’s up with that? Music makes the soul feel good, man. I will do whatever it takes for my kids to feel loved, to feel secure, to create a fun, safe environment where my kids learn at the highest levels. Half the battle is you wanting to be in my class. If I can get you to want to be in my classroom, then I can teach you anything.

What message do you have for the kids at David G. Burnet Elementary School who subscribe to D Magazine? We are the No. 1 elementary school in the state of Texas, and it is my honor to serve them. 

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