Answering The Call of Champions: From U.S. Army Officer to Early Childhood Teacher

November 22, 2016

(Photo: courtesy of the White House for publication with this piece.)

This piece, which features 2014 Inspired Teaching Fellow Daris McInnis, was written by Linda E. Alberty and originally appeared on the Inspirational Blog by Cultivate Excellence Consulting.

The Inspired Teacher Certification Program is now accepting applications for its 2017 cohort of Fellows. Learn more at www.inspiredteaching.org/teacher-certification.

Those with equal rank or higher remember him by his nickname “Baby Captain.” Others earlier in his career remember him as Second Lieutenant McInnis, and still to so many four and five year olds living in both New Orleans and Washington D.C., Daris McInnis is no doubt their champion.

As a PreSchool lead teacher at Inspired Teaching Demonstration Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., Daris serves 22 three year-olds children from the moment the bell rings to the time families greet them for dismissal.

Among Daris’ highest achievements—graduating The U.S. Army Officers Candidate School as a second lieutenant, leading 88 military personnel, cooks, chaplains assistants, and medics in the fuel dispensary, receiving a promotion to captain, and receiving a graduate degree in International Administration, Daris considers what he does today as an early childhood teacher his greatest experience. “If there was any other defining moment in my life, it has been working with my kids. They have changed my life,” Daris said.

Raised in the northwest of Detroit in Flint, Michigan, Daris never knew for sure what he wanted to do for a career (although his six-year old self was convinced that he’d be an astronaut), until his father joined the Army in 1990 as a tanker and modeled the Army way of life, retiring in 2013 as Chief of Military Pay. Like so many “Army brats” Daris gained a global worldview traveling from one duty station to the next, knowing one thing— The world is a diverse, interconnected place where all deserve an equal opportunity to become better. After earning a Bachelor of Business Administration from Angelo State University in 2008, the Detroit native enrolled into the Army as an active duty logistics officer.

During a volunteer experience at a local public school near his duty station, Daris discovered the love of his life. “I was at a place in my life where I knew my military service was coming to an end at Fort Lee, VA, but I still didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I was sorely disappointed when some of the local schools lost accreditation and closed down as many students and families in the Petersburg area were greatly affected by these changes.”

Shortly after, Daris embarked on a journey to New Orleans with the Education Pioneers Fellowship (EP), an organization that has created a path for more than 3,000 new leaders in K-12 Education. Daris worked meticulously with Crescent City Schools in their turnaround of Paul Habans Charter School. It was after spending time with the students that he received the call to teach.

Daris responded to this new call from a place of passion, “I was so moved by the kids and the conditions of the school before the turnaround, coupled with my concerns about the schools that lost accreditation in Petersburg…”  During that 10-week program, Daris decided to answer to this new call for his life. “It felt as if this was divine intervention, like I found my purpose,” said Daris.

After the incredible experience with the EP fellowship, Daris once again found himself at a crossroads on what to do next. He remembered that Washington D.C., was always on his wish list as a place to settle due to an experience he had while watching a TedxTalk overseas. “I distinctly recall agreeing with Aleta Margolis, Inspired Teaching’s founder and former executive director, on her idea that students need to be taught to actively communicate their own understanding of academic subjects and the world, as opposed to passively receiving information. This is how I was first introduced to Center for Inspired Teaching.”

Guided only by intuition, Daris set out to Washington D.C, with no job prospects or the promise of employment, instead only a handful of submitted applications to different teaching certification programs. “I was already drawn to Center for Inspired Teaching’s philosophy of improving the quality of education through student-centered teaching and learning.” With a newfound inspiration built around his previous experience at Education Pioneers (EP), Daris applied to the Inspired Teaching Certification Program, convinced it would work. And it did. In Spring 2014, Daris interviewed at selection day, and got a call inviting him to be apart of the Inspiring Teaching Summer Institute as a teaching fellow, where he learned to:

  • Become an Instigator of Thought 
  • Help Children Think For Themselves 
  • Help Children Become Problem-Solvers and Solution Seekers 
  • Help Others See Education is The Gateway To A Changing World

Shortly after finishing Summer Institute and beginning his residency teaching year, from the Daris also received the opportunity of a lifetime from the least likely place. On September 12, 2014, Daris was invited to the White House to celebrate AmeriCorps’ 20th Anniversary. As a recent new AmeriCorps member through his Inspired Teaching affilitation, Daris stood beside his cohort of Inspired Teaching Fellows and other 2014 AmeriCorps members to to take the oath of service on the White House lawn.

He even had the opportunity to share a private meeting with President Obama and former President Clinton. “It was such an honor. I was speechless,” recalls Daris.

The man who puts his heart and soul into his children today, strongly believes that while he is on Earth, it must be to benefit others. “There is more to life than satisfying our needs, especially with so many who do not have access to education,” Daris said.

Below, Daris shares three simple ways to be more selfless and others-oriented:

Do Your Part (Big or Small) – Roll up your sleeves and get to work on a cause that makes your heart break.

Help Raise Awareness on Issues That Matter – In areas of justice, conflict, equity and poverty, make it a habit to advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves.

Practice Inclusivity – Daris states, “We are not the only ones on this planet. We need to consider others and maximize our gifts for them.”

August Inspired Teaching Institute

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