story by Claire Miller │ photo by Meg Buscema
For 23 years, Tylan Bailey (B.S.E. ’21) made sure that Hightower Elementary School in Doraville, Ga., was clean and operational, from the school’s front entrance to the edges of the property.
He served as a custodian for 10 years before being promoted to head custodian in 2008. In his career at Hightower Elementary, he took pride in keeping classrooms and restrooms clean, maintaining the landscaping and ensuring that everything at the school was functioning properly.
“My motto was, ‘Treat the building like my kids go here and my mother had to use these restrooms,’” he said.
Bailey’s work also kept him in close proximity with educators who made a difference in their students’ lives every day – something he’d always wanted to do.
“When I was growing up, I came across a lot of teachers who were nice, helpful and understood me,” he said. “I always looked up to my teachers and saw the impact they had on me, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
In 2017, Bailey was accepted into the health and physical education program in Georgia State University’s College of Education & Human Development and began working toward a new career as a physical education teacher.
He worked full time at Hightower Elementary while earning his degree, which offered several hands-on courses about physical and motor skills, individual and team sport skills and tactics, physical fitness, nutrition and health.
Even though he was older than most of his classmates, Bailey shared a passion for physical education with them that transcended any age gap.
“Having that camaraderie with the other students at Georgia State was great. I was older than most students, but having study groups and having time together where we’d bounce ideas off each other was helpful,” he said. “And the professors at Georgia State were absolutely wonderful. I could tell they treated everyone as an adult and with respect.”
Bailey earned his bachelor’s degree in 2021 and accepted a physical education teaching position at Briar Vista Elementary School in Atlanta. He was also recognized on Good Morning America, who surprised him with several gifts after graduation: A trip for his family to the premiere of the movie “Jungle Cruise,” a $15,000 donation from Echelon Fitness to his new school and an Echelon bike and treadmill for his home.
Two years later, Bailey teaches Briar Vista Elementary’s 500+ student body and has enjoyed watching his students grow and learn so much during each academic year.
“It’s seeing the difference in a student from the first few weeks of the school year not being able to do certain activities to seeing them at the end of the year being able to do all of them. It’s a long, winding journey, but once they get to the end, it’s great to see,” he said.
Bailey may have had a long, winding journey to becoming a teacher, but he’s grateful to have made the leap.
“Everyone’s path is different. If you want to take 23 gap years, that’s perfectly fine – just know that if you set your mind to it, you can do it. You can always be more,” he said.