Growing up in West Tennessee as the children of a pastor, siblings Dr. Debra Messenger-Smith and Dr. Dedrick Messenger didn’t just talk about serving others—they lived it.
“My dad was an educator and pastor,” Dedrick said. “We’ve always been doing things for others. It was just in us.”
That desire to make a difference in others’ lives shaped the siblings’ shared passion for teaching. For more than 30 years, the brother and sister duo, both graduates of Trevecca’s doctoral program (Ed.D.) in leadership and professional practice, have brought that passion to bear in Metro Nashville Public School classrooms.
The siblings were recently honored for their work and dedication to the teaching profession, garnering awards from the Greater Nashville Alliance of Black School Educators. Debra was recognized as Principal of the Year. Her brother, Dedrick, an art teacher at Dan Mills Elementary in East Nashville, was named Teacher of the Year for his commitment to education.
Dedrick completed his doctorate in 2007, and after Dedrick’s graduation ceremony, Debra enrolled in the program, too, at the urging of her brother.
Ironically, Debra was the one who first encouraged Dedrick to get his master’s degree at Trevecca. Little did she know, he would later be the one encouraging her to pursue a doctoral degree.
An educator for more than 30 years, Debra has worked in a variety of leadership capacities including teacher, principal, and an executive lead principal for the Metro Nashville Public School System, where she oversaw 25 schools.
Debra says she utilized the skills Trevecca’s Ed.D. program helped her develop, cultivate and empower her staff within the various roles she’s held.
“In order to build leaders, I would delegate and build leadership with [other educators] and that’s something I learned at Trevecca,” she said. “[Our cohort] was under great leaders that were building us as leaders for the future.”
In addition to his work in the classroom, Dedrick says he’s been able to apply the skills he developed through the Ed.D. program to his business, D’s & J BBQ and Catering, which he runs with his wife. He’s also been able to use what he’s learned as a pastor at God’s House of Promise Ministries in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
For Dedrick, the Ed.D. program wasn’t simply about the credentials, but rather, it was an immersive experience that provided tangible growth in his professional career.
“I got my doctorate to learn more about leadership, and it was one of the best learning experiences in my life,” he said.
Looking back on their years as educators, the two agree that teaching is more than just a job.
“For me, teaching is a ministry,” Debra said. “It’s more than just a job; it’s something that I love to do.”
Debra’s calling became apparent when she was in the first grade. The passion and creativity of her early childhood educators left a lasting impression, and Debra wanted to bring that same passion to her students.
“My first-grade teacher, Miss Scott, was a great mentor and role model,” Debra recalled. “My teachers made it fun, so when I became a teacher, I made learning fun for my students.”
Dedrick’s experience was the polar opposite of his older sister. For Dedrick, it was a negative encounter with a teacher that motivated him to work with children.
“I had a teacher that treated me poorly, and I didn’t want a kid to have the same experience,” he said. “Growing up, my parents taught us to help and love everybody and, since then, that’s always been something I’ve done. It was always in me to try and help kids.”
For Debra and Dedrick, the accolades are an honor, but looking back on their careers as educators, the siblings take the most pride in helping and serving their students.
“The children are what make me so passionate about teaching,” Debra said. “Working with the children, seeing them shine and knowing I can make a difference in them is what makes it worthwhile.”