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Ex-deputy aims to work with kids

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Theodore Hinton Jr., right, an Edgecombe Community College Early Childhood Education intern at Good Shepherd Day School, talks with Warren Braswell, 4, as he plays with building blocks Thursday at the school.

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BY AMELIA HARPER
Staff Writer

Monday, October 22, 2018

When middle-aged men look for a new career after years of serving in the military or law enforcement, they don’t usually decide to become a pre-school teacher.

But Theodore Hinton Jr. did. 

Hinton, 57, grew up in New York City and moved with his family to Rocky Mount when he was a teenager. He attended Rocky Mount Senior High School. It was not a good experience for him.

“I had a couple of teachers who really didn’t like me because I came from New York City. They would tell me that. They made things really hard for me and they messed me up. I ended up dropping out of school because of it and joining the military,” Hinton said.

Hinton served in the Navy for about 10 years. He later joined the Nash County Sheriff’s Office, where he served for seven years before leaving to work at the Bridgestone plant in Wilson.

That negative experience in high school left Hinton with a sense of something missing. He eventually got his GED from Edgecombe Community College while he was in the military, but he wanted to prove to himself and to those teachers who knocked him down so long ago that he could earn a degree.

So in 2017, he got an associate degree in criminal justice from Edgecombe Community College and he is now pursuing a second associate degree in early childhood education from ECC. His current internship at the Good Shepherd Day School in Rocky Mount is one of the last steps to attaining that degree, which he is on track to earn in December.

After working for most of his life in careers dominated by men, Hinton is now working in a field dominated by women. Nationally, 98 percent of early childhood educators are women. Women are often perceived as more natural nurturers. The low pay for preschool workers is another reason men don’t flock to the field. 

The job also requires a great deal of patience.

“You have to have a lot to work with children — I mean a lot of patience. When I was younger, my patience was zero. I had to learn that,” Hinton said.

Hinton sad he had a lot of trouble finding a place to serve as an intern — a requirement for attaining his degree.

“I was afraid I would never get an internship and I think it was mainly because I was a man. I went to several day care centers in Nash and Edgecombe counties and they would not let me work there. My instructor finally spoke with someone here and helped me get in,” Hinton said. “These women are great to work with and they have helped me learn a lot.”

Hinton seems to have made quite an impression at the child care center, where he has worked for the past several weeks. A big, burly guy, Hinton cuts a conspicuous figure as he moves among the sea of tiny faces at the center. Some of his co-workers at the center refer to him as “the gentle giant.”

“It makes me feel safer having a man here,” said Mamie Pitts, who is lead teacher in a preschool class at Good Shepherd Day School and is serving as HInton’s mentor. “He is very interactive with the kids. They love him and always ask where he is when he is not here.”

The students responded well to Hinton last week as he helped them build block towers.

“I like having a boy teacher because he is nice” said Zuriah Davis, 4.

Hinton has plenty of experience working with children. He has three adult children and 13 grandchildren. He also knew something about the field of early childhood education because his wife of 29 years, Regina Hinton, also was a child care worker for many years.

But he was drawn to the field because of his experience in working with young people in his role as at the Nash County Sheriff’s Office.

“When I was at the Nash County Sheriff’s Department working in the detention center with juveniles, I mentored some of them. I thought that I needed to be able to reach the younger kids and be a man presence in their lives. Sometimes they respect a male figure more and I wanted to be role model for them,” Hinton said.

After he earns his degree in December, Hinton wants to volunteer working with young children at some place like Fairview or Johnson elementary schools, Hinton said. He is retired and said he is not worried about money at this point in his life. 

“Sometimes we have to look beyond money and look at these kids’ future instead,: Hinton said. “You never know — one of them could be the next president or movie star or great athlete. You don’t know who we have in this classroom.”

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