All hail the chief: LaFayette High junior named president of FTA

Published 9:30 am Wednesday, March 6, 2024

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Cardarrien Whitlow didn’t plan on being a teacher. But one day he was walking through the halls of LaFayette High School and passed by Dr. Rebecca Coxwell’s teacher education class and everything changed.

“I begged her to be there because it just looked so fun,” Whitlow said. 

The junior has been in Coxwell’s class for two years now and has added to that fun.

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“He is very outgoing. He is wonderful to be around,” Coxwell said. “The very first time I had him in my class, the very first day, I told him, ‘I love your energy’ because he is just full of energy and very talented.”

Whitlow continues to grow in his education classes and joined Future Teachers of Alabama. On a field trip to the University of Alabama in Birmingham, the LaFayette FTA attended a conference where they got to see kids around the state involved in the group.

“I’ve seen kids my age, I think some younger, running for these important roles in the state of Alabama,” Whitlow said. “If they can do it, why can’t I do it?”

When talking with Whitlow, he gives the impression of already being a teacher. He is eloquent, enthusiastic and respectful of others. It is easy to picture him in front of a classroom.

It is equally unsurprisingly that at the last FTA conference the high school attended, Whitlow was elected as the president of FTA for the entire state of Alabama. 

“At first, I really wasn’t going to run as president. I was going to run as a representative. I said go big or go home,” Whitlow said with a laugh.

The conference took place in Tuscaloosa, where Whitlow had to stand in front of all the students and teachers at the event and make a speech about why he wanted to be a leader for the state.

“We had to fill out the application and get his letter of recommendation. He wrote his speech. We made little campaign things to hand out at the conference,” Coxwell explained. “There were about 1100 students there at the meeting, and he got up and gave a speech, and then each chapter that was there voted.”

Later that day, it was announced that Whitlow had received the most votes and he was sworn in. Coxwell will remain his sponsor. 

As president, Whitlow will be responsible for organizing the next conference, meeting with the other representatives, and finding new initiatives or opportunities for chapters around the state. Whitlow will officially take office as the 2024-2025 school year president in March. However, he already has big plans. 

“I want to make education a more serious topic because there’s a very important demand for teachers because there’s a shortage,” Whitlow explained. 

Coxwell said a big push for FTA is the Grow Your Own Campaign. The goal of the effort is to encourage teachers to come back to teach in their communities. Whitlow would like to both teach in Chambers County as well as go elsewhere for a while.

“Going to meet new people is really beneficial for my future, and my career as a future teacher,” Whitlow said.  

However, LaFayette comes up often when talking with the president.

“I hope that after I leave, people from LaFayette see not only that I can do it, but they can do as well. Nothing is impossible,” Whitlow said. 

He enjoys teaching all age groups, but Whitlow plans to teach high school, where his love of teaching began. He said he enjoys the independence of high school students. Whitlow plans to be an English and language arts teacher.

Before he leaves LaFayette and starts his career, he will serve his term as FTA president. He recommends anyone interested in teaching join the organization.

“It’s a very fun thing to do. Don’t be scared. Always try something new and a key word of advice from me, you only live once,” Whitlow said.

Coxwell and the rest of LaFayette High School are excited to see him get into office.

“I’m very, very, very, very proud of him,” Coxwell said happily.

As for Whitlow, the title seems to mean less than the actual work he will be doing as a state leader.

“The reason why I want to be a teacher is because I would love to change lives, just like my teacher changed mine. I would love to have an impactful role in my community,” Whitlow said.