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Q&A with Arline Hemphill, CAC Alumna & Kindergarten Teacher

Arline Hemphill (‘02) graduated from UALR with a degree in Early Childhood Education and taught a mixture of Kindergarten and First Grade in the North Little Rock School District for six years. Last year, Arline served as a long-term substitute at CAC’s Pleasant Valley Elementary campus. Seventeen years after her high school graduation, she’s returned to her alma mater to teach Kindergarten at CAC’s NLR campus. We sat down to speak with her about her classroom philosophy, why Early Childhood education is important and what it’s been like “coming home.”

Tell us a little bit about you and your family!

I transferred to CAC in the middle of my 9th-grade year and absolutely loved it. I met my husband Zak at CAC when he was 15 and I was 16, and we got married in 2005. I taught Kindergarten and First Grade for six years and stopped when I gave birth to Marley, who had a heart defect. We lost her when she was 16 months. I’ve always told people that I’m a teacher who teaches from my heart, which is why I didn’t think I could come back after Marley passed because my heart was so broken. But again, in His perfect timing, God put Pleasant Valley and that Kindergarten longterm substitute job right where I needed it.

We have three kids: Landon is in the 5th grade here and just turned 11, Marley would’ve been 8 years old this year and we have Hopey, who is 5 years old and in Kindergarten here.

You seem comfortable here, sitting at this desk, surrounded by tiny desks and crafts. It’s easy to see that you genuinely enjoy being around these kids. What inspired to you teach this age?

Kindergarten is my heart…these are my people. I’ve always had a love for kids and I’ve always had a desire to be part of their lives. I enjoy getting to know their little personalities and what makes them tick. I love just pouring into a little life who has the whole world ahead of them. I get to tell them, “I believe in you. You can do this.” and then watch the lightbulbs click.

What is your number one goal when you walk into the classroom each day?

I just want them to feel loved. I always say that we are a family in here. I want to provide a loving environment, a safe environment and a comfy environment. Obviously I want them to learn, but I want them to know when they walk through that door that I’m here for them. I have those kinds of conversations with little humans all of the time. 

Also, it’s new working at a school where I can talk about my faith, because I couldn’t do that before. I make sure that they know not only do I love them, but HE loves them. It’s been fun to work Him into all sorts of my lessons.

Do you have a favorite unit or subject of material that you look forward to teaching?

Writing is my favorite thing to teach. I love watching the progression from random letters to slowly see it transform into actual words. I also love to look at a piece of writing and know exactly which student wrote it because you can see their voice in the writing. I love, love that. I love to teach them how to have a thought, organize it and put it on a piece of paper. It isn’t always pretty, but it’s precious. 

CAC’s Early Childhood Education program really emphasizes the importance of teaching independence to students. In your opinion, why is it important for Kindergarteners to continue to form those skills in the classroom?

My goal is to teach them to be life-long learners, and that starts with being independent. I have a lot of little friends who come in here saying “I can’t do it. I don’t know how.” I teach them, “Yes you can do it. I would not ask you to do this if I didn’t think you could.” I love to give them that boost of courage and self-esteem and then watch them take it and grow. I never want a student to leave my classroom and dislike school because they feel like they are incapable. 

At the beginning of the year, you meet them where they’re at and slowly help them take steps towards you. It’s fun to see that growth. I think that’s one of the reasons I love Kindergarten so much…there is so much growth. They come in saying, “I can’t read” and then a few months later I get to say, “See, I told you!”

That is really wonderful! Since you’ve talked about how much you enjoy watching your students grow in the classroom, we want to know – what is a lesson you’ve learned from these ‘little humans’?

They’ve taught me so many things…it’s hard to put into words, but I’ll try. They’ve taught me the innocence of not seeing [differences] or name brands. They just come to school with an innocence that I hope to maintain at some level.

They’re also really good at reminding me that mistakes happen every single dau and that those mistakes are absolutely okay. They are teaching me to meet them where they’re at, instead of me expecting them to be all in the same place. They teach me to know every personality. And, they’re quite fun personalities to be around!

You attended CAC from the middle of 9th grade to graduation in 2002. What is it like to back on the other side of the desk? Why did you decide to teach at your alma mater?

I love it. Zak and I knew that we eventually wanted to come back to CAC, but we just weren’t sure about the timing. It all happened in God’s way and timing. After Landon started school and I started working here it just felt like I was back home. It’s nice to be around familiar faces and people who are like-minded.

Since being here I’ve seen my son’s anxiety lessen ten-fold and that’s been really nice. I’ve always loved the family atmosphere at CAC – that’s one of the things I loved the most when I transferred in the 9th grade. Now I get to experience that as a mom and a teacher.

What advice would you give to a first-year teacher?

I would want a new teacher to know that the most important thing you can do is let a child know you love them, you respect them and that you believe in them. If you can develop a relationship with a child, anything is possible. Before it becomes academic is has to be relational.

We have time for one last question! What is an interesting fact that few people know about you?

My hair didn’t get curly until I turned 13 years old. It was completely straight and then I turned 13 and this happened!