Miriam Hood-Riley - A.C. Corcoran
For Miriam Hood-Riley being a stay-at-home mom was a dream career. However, one day, her daughter, who was a senior at the College of Charleston (CofC), looked at her and said, “how can you advocate for the importance of a good education if you only hold an associate’s degree yourself?”
“I told her she was correct and the next thing you know, I was a freshman at CofC and my daughter was a senior,” said Hood-Riley. “I knew if I ever went into the workforce, I wanted to be a teacher, so I could follow in the footsteps of several family members who worked in the classroom.”
Miriam Hood-Riley pursued a Bachelor of Education with a degree in Early Childhood. In 2009, she began her student teaching at A.C. Corcoran Elementary School. She was hired on at Corcoran as a second grade teacher and as she jumped enthusiastically into her first year of teaching, she pursued her Master’s Degree in Learning, Teaching and Advocacy.
“I absolutely loved teaching second grade and I just love the children,” said Hood-Riley. “I am skilled in good behavior management and there was a need for that in third grade. They looped me up with my second grade into the third grade with them. We hit the ground running because we already had built bonds and relationships and the students blew the scores out of the water that year.”
Hood-Riley spent 13 more years as a third-grade teacher and said she absolutely loved it. Now, she is still at Corcoran but serving in her first year as the librarian.
Four years ago, there was a shortage of librarians and a call to action was sent out to see if there was interest in joining a 10-person cohort to receive a degree (partially funded by Charleston County School District) from the University of South Carolina in Information Science to become a teacher-librarian. Hood-Riley was chosen as one of ten out of the 140 teachers who applied. She continued to work full-time while receiving her degree.
Hood-Riley makes it sound so easy, but she faced some pretty daunting obstacles during those years. She was diagnosed with cancer and said that her saving grace was coming to school to teach her “babies.”
Hood-Riley spent five years undergoing chemotherapy and radiation and didn’t miss a day of school because of it.
“Those babies kept me going,” said Hood-Riley. “I wanted to be here for them and unknowingly, they were there for me. That is also in addition to the amazing support from the team at Corcoran and the administration. It is because of that love and support that I wouldn’t go anywhere else in the district. Corcoran is my home and the people here are my family.”
A second tragedy befell her family. Just as the pandemic was sweeping into the Lowcountry, Hood-Riley was on leave, sitting at her husband’s bedside in the hospital. He passed away March 20, 2020 from an extended illness.
CCSD schools went virtual that next week and by Wednesday of that week, Hood-Riley was back in front of her students, determined that learning must go on.
“I had to keep going,” said Hood-Riley. “These kids brighten my day and I hope by some measure I did the same for them.”
Hood-Riley also found strength in an unlikely source – the boy band BTS. Wikipedia describes their lyrics as those that are often focused on personal and social commentary, touch on the themes of mental health, troubles of school-age youth and coming of age, loss, the journey towards loving oneself, and individualism. Their work also often references literature and psychological concepts and includes an alternative universe storyline.
“There is power in music,” said Hood-Riley. “BTS sings of light, love, and being your own superhero. These are the lessons I teach my students at school as well.”
Hood-Riley soon introduced her students to the music and wove the message of each song into the curriculum. The students have learned to fluently sing the songs in Korean and now are learning to speak not just Korean but multiple other languages as well.
Principal Jonathon Wideman enjoys hearing ‘I love you’ and ‘hello’ in various languages.
“One thing that I love is the fact that she is teaching students about various cultures,” said Wideman. “She is truly a source of inspiration and hope for the students and staff at A.C. Corcoran. She has increased her influence school-wide through her role as the teacher-librarian. The students love her, as well as, faculty/staff and parents. Mrs. Riley uses books to teach SEL lessons, math lessons, and whatever else a teacher needs support reinforcing.
Becoming a librarian
Even with a second Master’s under her belt, Hood-Riley didn’t necessarily have her sights set on being a teacher-librarian. It would certainly be a consideration if she was asked, Hood-Riley explained. That day did eventually come when former Corcoran Principal Quenetta White said she would be a perfect fit.
Hood-Riley had conditions, though. She wasn’t going to be the teacher-librarian unless she could bring her ever-expanding collection of BTS figurines with her and return to teaching, in her same classroom, if she didn’t like it.
The deal was set and now halfway into her first year as the Corcoran teacher-librarian, she loves it.
“This is what I was meant to do,” said Hood-Riley. “To introduce them to things they’ve never known before. Kids come into the library looking for an ear and safe space to be heard. The students with behavioral challenges seek a calm space and they find it in the library. There is something for all of my babies in here.”
Hood-Riley especially likes the idea of having 625 students rather than just 25 or so, as traditionally found in a classroom. She is grateful to White for giving her this opportunity and considers it almost a parting gift from the person she describes as her “unbilogical sister.”
White said that during her teaching years, Hood-Riley went beyond the call of duty for her students, families, colleagues, and even strangers.
“Ms. Riley is a passionate, dedicated educator, and is respected and loved by her school family,” said White. “She eagerly volunteers to support new teachers and interns. I was Mrs. Riley's supervisor from August 2017 to July 2021. She took the lead on numerous initiatives from raising funds for the school to ensuring that no child missed a gift under the Christmas tree.”
While she misses White (who has moved on to another position in the district), she is thriving under the leadership of Jonathon Wideman, the new principal at Corcoran.
“We had an instant connection,” said Hood-Riley. “I can retire anywhere between the next two to five years. Mr. Wideman insists on 20 more. He may be the reason I stay more than five years.”
The language studies have been a hit with the students and their reaction is very reflective of the atmosphere at Corcoran, Hood-Riley said.
“We’re in the carpool line every morning and afternoon and the students are saying ‘hello’ or ‘goodbye’ or ‘I love you’ in whatever language we’re studying at the moment,” said Hood-Riley. “It is home here. You know it’s a special place when the students are excited to be here.”
Hood-Riley said that her exposure to BTS has shown her the importance of teaching her students the soft skills needed to be an empathetic person in all things.
“We are not just a classroom, we’re a family,” said Hood-Riley. “I teach the students that we have to be there for each other. We have to be a person’s light in the dark and shine for each other.”
Her assistant, Joyce Rogers described Hood-Riley as an amazing teacher-librarian.
“Her passion and love show through her lessons,” said Rogers. “She has a firm structure that the children respect and love. I enjoy working with her because of her vibrant personality. It's easy because my personality is vibrant as well.”
What Hood-Riley loves most about being an educator is when students come back as adults to visit, call, or send handwritten notes. Her first group of students is now 19 and 20 years old, and she keeps in touch with many of them.
“If I am touching one child, that’s enough for me,” said Hood-Riley. “I have always told my students that I love them no matter what – and I do. That’s why I am an educator. Kids need to know they are loved and the academics will follow. Many have reached out all these years later and thanked me for that.”
Just the beginning
At 60 years old, many would be looking into the sunset of their career, but not Hood-Riley. She’s empowered by her students’ response to her curriculum. She enjoys her new role, which gives Hood-Riley access to all students where she can watch them grow and change just as she has done with her own children.
When not teaching, Hood-Riley can be found running the PTA, planning a school event or festival, serving as department chairperson, and mentoring first-year teachers. There is no slowing her down because she’s just getting started.
The daughter who encouraged her to go back to college is now 38-years old and living in Columbia as a newlywed. Her 36-year-old son has special needs and lives at home with her. But, by osmosis, he is a member of the Corcoran family as well because, for years, he has come to work in the morning with his mother before he heads off to work at a nearby retail store. She is grateful that her colleagues and administration love her children as much as she loves the kids of Corcoran.
“There is something very special about Corcoran and our students,” Hood-Riley concluded.
“Ms. Riley is one of the kindest women I know,” added White. “There are countless times that she provided necessities for students out of her personal funds. Her words were always, ‘Mrs. White, I'm blessed. This is from my heart, my joy comes from helping others.’ Mrs. Riley is truly a gem, a one-of-a-kind. She is deserving of this accolade and so much more!”