Eria Jackson recalls fondly the day she put her dolls in a row and walked to the dry-erase board to begin her teaching career.
“I was in the second grade,” she chuckled.
Jackson, 23, starts her first full year today as a third-generation educator in Decatur City Schools, and she’s fully aware of the impact her family of educators has had on the city.
Her grandfather, Lorenzo “Coach” Jackson, taught and coached for more than 40 years in Decatur. Her mother, Teddi Jackson, started working for the school system in 1997 as a second grade teacher at Walter Jackson Elementary and is currently principal at Oak Park Elementary.
Eria also has the pressure of following in the footsteps of her maternal grandmother for whom she is named. Eria Williams was a business education teacher in Montgomery and a professor at Alabama State University.
Eria Jackson will be a cheerleading coach and teach business education at Austin High this academic year after being on the Austin Junior High faculty the second half of last school year.
“I still hear the stories about my grandfather and the impact he had on people in this community,” she said. “But, I also hear stories about my mother and things she is doing for students in the community.”
Austin High Principal Melissa Scott said Eria’s grandfather set a high standard for everyone — administrators, teachers and students — and she doesn’t expect his granddaughter to have any problem carrying on the family legacy.
“We were very lucky to get her here this year,” she said. “Eria is very intelligent, creative and did a fabulous job working with the cheerleaders last year.”
For as long as she can remember, Eria said her goal was to return to Decatur and teach, but the opportunity to return home happened sooner than she expected.
The 2014 Decatur High graduate finished at the University of North Alabama in December 2018 with a degree in secondary education business marketing. Eria then accepted a teaching position to finish last school year at Austin Junior High and continue as Austin High cheerleading coach.
She was working as the cheerleader coach at Austin High while completing her college studies, but was doing her student teaching in Florence.
Eria said God had another plan for her when the position at Austin Junior High, on the old Austin High campus, became vacant “just as I was graduating.”
She said one of her goals was to work at the old Austin High campus because that was where her grandfather served as an assistant football and track coach for nine years after Decatur schools integrated.
“I was a couple of buildings from his old office,” Eria said.
Her father — District 1 Decatur Councilman Billy Jackson — graduated from Austin High in 1981 and he, too, was glad his daughter spent part of her teaching career at the old Austin High campus.
He said he has no concern about his daughter following in the footsteps of her grandfather or her mother.
“She’s tough and prepared,” Billy Jackson said, adding that Eria was involved with everything as a student and has spent her entire life around educators.
“They are all different,” Eria said, referring to her grandparents and mother.
She said her grandfather, who died when she was in second grade, was “very head strong,” while her maternal grandmother “lives what she does.”
She said her mother is “very nurturing” and is helping her learn how to better connect with students and understand their needs for support.
“All of them have a part in what I do as an educator,” Eria said.
Scott said Eria was a natural fit for the business education position when it became available at Austin because she was familiar with the school culture and because of her involvement with the cheerleading team.
“Hiring her is one of the best things we have done at Austin,” said Scott, a 1987 Austin High graduate. “A lot of our students know and trust her.”
Eria, a cheerleader at UNA for four years, is already impacting cheerleaders under her guidance.
Juniors Abbey Pace and Nykia Hampton, both first-year cheerleaders, said their coach is tough, fair, supportive and has made them feel comfortable in their first varsity season.
“She sets a good example and requires a lot of hard work,” Hampton said.
Eria said she learned a lot about how to treat students during her senior year at UNA as a cheerleader, a “year that didn’t go too well.”
She said several of her teammates she had cheered with for three years got cut their senior year for what Eria said turned out to be no apparent reason. The experience was so traumatic that some of her teammates dropped out of school and didn’t graduate, she said.
“How you treat people matters, and I’m determined to be the complete opposite of what I witnessed,” she said. “What you do around and to young people matters more than what you say to them.”