Monique Henderson — Special to Hattiesburg American
Tanisha Washington was 18 years old when her little brother Chris was born.
And she knew as soon as he came roaring into the world that she would spend a lifetime dedicated to teaching young people and serving in schools.
Initially, Washington, an Oak Grove resident who serves as director of Educational Services for Bailey Education Group, a Mississippi education consulting company, went to school to be a speech pathologist. She enjoyed that role, but quickly felt that she wanted a deeper connection with her students.
“I loved my kids so much – but usually I only saw them two days a week for 30 minutes. I got to watch them grow and I loved them, but I wanted more,” the Bude native recalled. “It clicked in me that what I wanted to do was to be a classroom teacher.”
When Washington had that realization, she returned to school at the University of Southern Mississippi to earn her master’s in elementary education. She later became an English language arts teacher, working in the Hattiesburg Public School District. After teaching for several years, she became an academic coach, providing support to other teachers.
“Supporting my fellow teachers felt very natural to me – very comfortable,” Washington recalled.
She saw big results while working as a coach and her building’s test scores climbed. Much of that growth happened when a Bailey Education Group coach was also providing support in the building.
“We got to the point where we were co-facilitating pretty often,” Washington recalled of the experience. “I understood and liked the process.”
Soon, Washington had an offer to work at Bailey Education Group.
Washington said her favorite projects are the ones that allow her to work with both teachers and students. In her role, she works directly with schools and districts, and also sees the work of other coaches and project managers at Bailey.
The company also does work in Louisiana and Alabama. Since COVID brought school closures across the state in mid-March, Bailey has increasingly provided virtual supports, allowing teachers to both socially distance and continue their professional development, instructional planning and other work. The company also has helped to support teachers who need technology training.
Her days can be quite long. Living in Oak Grove, she often leaves her home early in the morning, works a full day at a school site and doesn’t get back home until well into the evening. She has projects across the state, including in Meridian, Jackson, the Mississippi Delta, North Mississippi and beyond.
But Washington said the travel is worth it.
“It’s worth it because I enjoy it and I know that we make a difference,” she said. “It’s completely broadened my scope.”
Still, Washington works to balance her work-home life.
“I’m learning that there are times I need to get off work and go be with the kids,” Washington said, referring to her rising ninth grade daughter and eleventh grade son.
Washington’s children are busy in their own right. Her son is a basketball player, and her daughter is in cheer. She also spends time with her parents, Judge Ricky O’Quinn and Cathy O’Quinn of Bude. When she isn’t keeping up with her family, she tries to catch up on her reading list or shopping.
Chris — the “baby brother” who inspired her to commit to a career in education — is no longer a baby by any stretch. In fact, he is a college graduate himself and is now pursing a master’s in school counseling. He lives with Washington and they now talk about and reflect upon education issues and topics often.
“I think about my kids and I think about my brother,” she said.
“They are all so important to me. I know what a difference a good education makes for them – and I know that I want every child to have those same opportunities."
"That’s why I have to keep giving my all – because I know how important it is that their teachers give their all, too. I’m glad to be doing what I do – I really am.” shares Washington.