INDIAN HEAD, Md. – The line from student to teacher to administrator was not a straight one for Tammika Little, a vice principal at Henry E. Lackey High School. But if she were to connect the dots, her career path may have started to take shape while she was a child.
“I always said I was going to become a doctor. But I used to play school when I was growing up. I would gather up my dolls, my cousins and I would give spelling tests,” Little said. “I guess it has come full circle. I just didn’t know it then.”
It would take a run in with the great outdoors coupled with the advice and encouragement of friends and colleagues to help Little find her path.
Little was recently named the 2022 Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) Vice Principal of the Year. Before coming to Lackey, Little was a vice principal at Benjamin Stoddert Middle School, before moving to John Hanson Middle School. Prior to becoming an administrator, she was a seventh-grade language arts teacher and a gifted education resource teacher.
Little graduated as an English major from Fayetteville State University in her home state of North Carolina. Little was a biology major in the pre-med track when she entered college. When she found herself trekking through the woods for a botany course, she had a change of heart. Little is the first to admit she’s not “outdoorsy.”
“I’m a country girl,” she said. “But I’m a country girl who sat in the screened-in porch. I don’t like bugs,” she said. At the same time she was questioning her decision about pre-med, Little was taking a poetry elective and found herself more engaged and interested in dissecting paragraphs than insects. It led to her switching majors from biology to English. “I gotta do what I love,” Little remembered telling herself. It’s advice she believes in, but when discussing the future with students, she adds a caveat. “What I would tell kids now is that ‘Yes, you have to do what you love.’ There’s nothing wrong with that. But you also have to be able to eat,” she said.
Following college graduation, Little took a job as a registrar at a museum. Her favorite part about the job was coordinating activities and programs for children who visited. A friend took notice and suggested Little try her hand at education. At first, she had doubts. She had thought about pursuing a career in mass communications, maybe sports journalism. Her friend convinced her to give teaching a try for a year. She was hired as a seventh-grade English teacher at a North Carolina school and worked on getting her certification during the school year. “That first day I thought I knew everything,” Little said. “It was difficult, but it was great. It was the best work that I had ever done at that point.”
The following year, she was the team leader and grew even more invested in her students. “I quickly learned that building relationships with the kids would essentially get you wherever you needed to go with them,” Little said.
Moving to Maryland
Little taught for four-and-a-half years in North Carolina before her husband’s job search led him to applying for positions in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. They were young and only a couple of years married then. “Why don’t we just move,” Little asked. She opened an old-fashioned map and scoped out the areas around the District. “I applied to Fairfax County. I applied to Montgomery County. I applied to Prince George’s County, and I applied to Charles County,” she said.
“I applied to Charles County on a Tuesday and got a call on Thursday,” Little said. Driving up from North Carolina, Little and her husband got a good feeling traveling through Charles County. “This reminds us of home,” she said. “That’s how we felt when we hit La Plata.” That was in December and Little started as a language arts teacher at Mattawoman Middle School in January.
When North Point High School was preparing to open to 2005, Yolanda Hume, a language arts teacher with CCPS and Little’s neighbor, encouraged her to take a job at the new school. The first students would still be mostly middle-school students (North Point opened in 2005 for students in sixth through ninth grades) and Hume thought Little would be a good fit as a teacher at the school. “You have so much leadership potential,” Hume told her. Flattered by what Hume saw in her, Little applied for and got the position at North Point. She was only there a short time before another opportunity presented itself — a chance to be the gifted education resource teacher at General Smallwood Middle School. By that time, Little had her master’s from McDaniel College along with an Administration I certification, and Smallwood’s then-Principal Cynthia Baker encouraged Little to look into taking the next step.
“I love being in the classroom with kids. That’s my comfort zone,” Little said. “I don’t know if I always wanted to be an administrator, but I always wanted to do different things.” Little was ready to take on a new challenge and started as a vice principal first at Benjamin Stoddert Middle School, then John Hanson Middle School. Little was familiar with middle school and the students in that age group. “They are different every day, you do not know who you’re going to get,” she said. “There are a lot of opportunities to work with students because of that.”
Six years ago, Little moved to Lackey as a vice principal, and learned that high school students were a bit more comfortable in who they are, or were at least working toward finding out. “Some will come to you not quite sure about who they are or what they want,” Little said. “They come to you to help them figure it out and those are the hard conversations — ‘What is it you want to accomplish? What mark do you want to leave on the world?’ We start there and work our way back.”
Her colleagues see how Little interacts with students and her impact on them. “It is evident that her true passion lies in working with students,” John Lush, Lackey’s athletic director, wrote in nomination materials. He added that she is not afraid to have difficult conversations with students and staff and has a strong set of values. “She demonstrates these values to mold the character of many young men and women while making Lackey a better community for both students and staff,” Lush said.
Embracing Charger Pride
“What sets Mrs. Little apart from the rest is her ability to forge positive, interpersonal relationships with students, staff, parents and community members,” Lackey Principal Kathy Perriello wrote in nomination materials. “She always extends understanding, honesty and humor. She treats our Charger students as her own and cares about them enough to have the hard, difficult, courageous conversations.”
Beyond shepherding students through their high school years, Little is also the “go to” person for staff members who need a mentor or advice, Perriello added. “Mrs. Little is the ‘whole package,’” Lackey Vice Principal Tamra Nissen wrote. “She is firm, fair and consistent. She is the rock of our vice principal team at Henry E. Lackey High School.”
Little’s ability to see and hear all sides of an issue is appreciated by staff, parents and most importantly, students. “She quickly fixes any problems that occur and does it fairly for everyone involved,” Darrian Carter, a 2022 Lackey graduate, wrote. Chris Cooley, a recent Lackey graduate, agreed. “She is relaxed, but she can keep it real,” he said. “I know if I have an issue I can go to Mrs. Little for a fair outcome. She has my back, but she also has high expectations for me.” Beyond listening to and helping them talk through conflicts or concerns, students value how Little goes out of her way to brighten their day. “She never fails to say a kind word such as ‘Good morning,” or ‘I like your hair,’” Leah Robinson, a rising Lackey senior, wrote. “Such a simple ‘Hello,’ can make or change my day. I can count on Mrs. Little to be there when I need that spark.”
That care and concern doesn’t end at graduation. Little forges strong relationships with students that continue long after their high school years have closed. Students — especially those who went into the field of education — still reach out to her to pick her brain and ask advice. The past couple of years have left many with doubts about their future in the career. A former student who is now an elementary school teacher in a nearby county recently called Little to express her frustrations with teaching. Little listened and then offered, “There’s a reason you got into education. You have a gift that is bigger than this year,” she said. “You’re going to have difficult years, but you push through. The good news is the year is almost over and you can start thinking of the things you can put in place for next year to ensure that you don’t have the same problems or that you have a plan in place for when they come up.”
Little hires a former student who graduated from North Point’s culinary arts program to bake cakes for family celebrations — a family that includes husband, Ericho; son, Devin, a 2022 graduate of North Point who is headed to his mother’s alma mater Fayetteville State University in the fall; and daughter, DeLaney, a rising seventh grader. Little runs into past students both professionally and when she’s out and about in the community. It’s these types of relationships that Little cultivates and builds with students that she believes make the hours of investment “worth it” for her and her peers. “These ‘kids’ … they still reach out to us,” Little said. “It’s the best part about doing this — the relationships you are building with students and the fact that it matters.”