Forging a Legacy of Learning
1969. The year we celebrated the first man walking on the moon, Woodstock and the Boeing 747 making its first commercial flight.
It was the same year Betty Hanks graduated with a master’s of education from Texas A&M.
She was a teacher at the time, teaching Reading and English at a small school in Fayetteville, Texas. She noticed her students were weakest in reading and wanted to strengthen her own skills in order to help them succeed.
Hanks remembers studying education research day and night, learning everything she could about researchers such as Jean Piaget and his theory of cognitive development. Calling herself a spitfire, Hanks said she made it a point to know as much as possible so she could be an important part of any classroom discussions or study groups.
At a time when the number of women on campus was increasing and there was more of a focus on education, Hanks felt like she fit in. She acknowledged that there were mostly men on campus and she made an effort to wave and speak to every woman she saw.
At an event in 2018, Hanks and her fellow former students were talking when she was approached by a man she recognized from her time on campus.
“He told me he wanted to apologize to us for not being the best of company to be with. He told me that he and the other gentlemen were not the nicest people to be around,” Hanks explained.
Hanks didn’t notice not being accepted on campus.
“I guess it all depends on how you perceive it. I made sure to jump right in, ask questions and make sure I was included,” Hanks added.
Her persistence paid off. In 1969, she graduated with her master’s and Elementary Education certification.
Hanks went back to the classroom where she implemented what she learned during her studies at Texas A&M. For the next 30 years, she worked to impact the lives of thousands of students in three area schools. She retired in 1995.
She had begun tutoring children after school in her home towards the end of her teaching career. She even tutored the children of her colleagues while she was on maternity leave. That is when someone suggested she get a childcare license and the Big Top Learning Center was born.
“I had a lot of children in my den and in my garage. The students kept coming, so I built another garage,” Hanks said. “It just kept growing. People heard about the innovative activities I was doing and the research behind them. Eventually, we had two garages, my den, and the utility room and patio that I turned into classrooms.”
With four classrooms, Hanks was able to support 120 infants, toddlers and preschoolers. She was able to hire 10 teachers and a full-time cook to provide breakfast, lunch and a mid-afternoon snack for her students.
Under Hanks’ leadership, The Big Top Learning Center went from a childcare center in her home to a Texas Rising Star facility and accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
As she looks at another potential retirement in the coming years, she cannot help but focus on the students she has helped succeed.
“It makes my day to know I have touched the lives of those children. I’ve sparked them and encouraged them to excel,” said Hanks.
She has also written several books on curriculum and discipline. Proceeds from the books go back to the community. Big Top provides four scholarships for students that attended the center as well as a scholarship for someone in the community seeking a degree in education.
Hanks also passes along advice to those considering becoming educators – make sure this is something you are passionate about and able to commit to. After you commit, become a lifelong learner in order to be a better teacher.
“Give your students what they need to be able to be successful and be good readers, or mathematicians or scientists. Once you commit, and you are determined to get the information, you will succeed. And, when you excel, there’s a tickling and prickling of your heart seeing what you’ve done for the children,” said Hanks.
Two of Hanks’ daughters are carrying on the tradition. They both received degrees in education from Texas A&M in 2003.
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