3 Unexpected Lessons Learned

No matter where you go,
no matter what you do,
you’ll always be my babies.

I’ve spoken those words to every student I’ve had over the last 13 years. The advent of social media has allowed my relationship with my students to continue beyond our time together in the classroom. For that, I am truly grateful. Because without social media, I might have missed the most important lessons of all.

words + photographs CARIE HINKLE

My students have taught me many unexpected lessons from the latest Tik Tok dances to how to correctly cuff your jeans with booties. However, the importance of fierce loyalty, overcoming adversity, and perseverance in the face of the impossible are the most unexpected. I believed I would be the teacher of important life lessons. Little did I know, I was about to meet a force of nature in the form of a 6th grade girl.

She entered my classroom and quickly became the tipping point of whether we’d get anything done or end up on repeated rabbit trails. Fortunately, most days she was focused and she flourished during our time together. She emerged as a leader that year and quickly began serving on student council, in student-led clubs, and even traveled to Washington, D.C., to represent the state of Missouri for National History Day.

(1) Fierce Loyalty

The first lesson she taught me came on the first day of school her 7th grade year, fierce loyalty. As I stood outside greeting scared sixth graders being delivered to class by their 8th grade mentors, she bopped by to give me a hug and asked if she could go into my classroom. Then I heard the following, “Okay, you guys. If you mistreat Mrs. Hinkle, I’m going to come back and kick your butts.” Like I said, fiercely loyal. Over the next couple of years, she demonstrated fierce loyalty to me in her speech of friends, family, and even in a Taco Bell hot sauce packet she left on my desk one day. Too soon, she moved on to high school, and I left the district.

In the fall of 2018 I went to a volleyball game at my old school. It was a wonderful evening marred by one thing: She wasn’t there, and no one seemed to know where she had gone. I searched social media high and low and couldn’t find her. My mama bear senses were screaming, “Danger, danger.”

(2) Overcoming Adversity

I would have to wait until December of 2019 to learn the next lesson she had for me. Overcoming adversity. It began with the following message on my social media messenger, “Hi, Mrs. Hinkle. This is … Do you remember me?” Then she affirmed all of my greatest fears. Drugs, alcohol, running away, juvenile officers, group homes, lock up. She was now sober, living with an aunt, working hard on school, taking dual credit courses, and working. She was the embodiment of overcoming adversity.

(3) Perseverance in the Face of the Impossible

We stayed in contact via social media, but I wouldn’t see her again until September 2020. She had moved back to the area with her grandparents and was playing volleyball. I snuck into the game, looking for the child in the young woman before me. As I watched her play, for the first time in over two years, I was finally able to exhale. She was healthy, safe, and thriving. Over the school year, she taught me my next lesson, perseverance in the face of the impossible. She became part of the student council, played sports, went to dances, took pictures, met a boy, paid off a car, bought a truck, finished school early, and graduated.

Gone was the girl labeled unworthy. In her place stood a young woman on the precipice of a future many believed would never come.

Recently, she stood before her judge, caseworker, and juvenile officer and chronicled her achievements and plans for the future. Gone was the girl labeled unworthy. In her place stood a young woman on the precipice of a future many believed would never come. I eagerly await my next lesson. CH


Carie Hinkle is a wife, mother, educator, and trainer. She and her husband, Doug, enjoy unplanned vacations, road trips on their Harley, and spending time with family.

Carie and Doug also are co-owners of Lavish Grazing, along with their older son Kedron and their daughter-in-law Kendra. Read about Lavish Grazing in the June 2021 issue of Homegrown Journal.