Senior Fabien McGill knows what a difference a little encouragement from a teacher can make in the life of a student.

Growing up in tiny Mullins, S.C., McGill, a middle grades education major, says many students thought they only had two choices after high school: go into the military or stay at home and look for a job.

Fabien McGill

But he and several of his Mullins High School classmates went on to college thanks to the support of their band director, Kendell Hills. McGill, 22, credits Hills with inspiring him to do his best in school, think beyond the borders of his hometown and setting him on his journey to becoming a teacher.

“He just didn’t teach his subject and go home,” McGill says.

It is stories like those of McGill that led Fran Welch, dean of the School of Education, Health and Human Performance, to organize the first ever Thank a Teacher, Support a Future Teacher campaign, which launches May 3, 2016. The fundraising effort coincides with Lowcountry Giving Day and National Teacher Appreciation Day.

Donations to support teacher education candidates at the College can be made through the Thank a Teacher, Support a Future Teacher campaign website. All funds raised will go to the Dean’s Scholarship Fund, which provides financial aid to future teachers.

“Teachers make a significant difference in the lives of their students,” Welch says. “My wish is for every future teacher at the College of Charleston to enter the profession debt free.”

As part of the campaign, students, alumni, faculty and parents are encouraged to thank a teacher special to them on social media using the hashtag #CofCThxTeachers.

“Most teachers go into the profession because they want to make a difference, so having the opportunity to hear this appreciation from others should be very reinforcing to them,” Welch says.

McGill, who is himself a recipient of a scholarship for teacher education majors, says as an African-American man, he knows the importance of having diverse role models in the classroom. And, he says, what Mr. Hills, who is also African-American, offered his band students went far beyond tips on how to play the trumpet or snare drum. He taught his students how to write their own music. He helped them create beats for rap lyrics they’d written. Hills also took the time to help seniors apply for college and encouraged them to pursue band scholarships.

“It was just the little things like that,” McGill says. “He went out of his way, out of his pay grade, to help us.”

It was the support he got from Mr. Hills – and the support he says he didn’t get through the education system as a whole – that inspired McGill to go into education. The turning point, he says, came when he realized his hometown of Mullins is part of the Corridor of Shame, an area chronicled in a 2006 documentary of the same name about educational shortcomings in South Carolina communities bordering Interstate 95.

“It really shook a nerve in me,” he says, referencing the documentary. “I want to give students the opportunity to understand they have options.”

McGill, who is set to start his education career as a math teacher at Alcorn Middle School in Columbia, S.C., this fall, says supporting future teachers is really about supporting children.

“Some people do not realize as teachers we’re creating what you need for the future. A lot of people say, ‘I invest in this company or that business,’ but to truly invest in what you want, you need to invest in the kids that are coming up and are going to take over one day.”

Watch below to see some of the tributes to teachers:

Thank You! from College of Charleston on Vimeo.

Thank You! from College of Charleston on Vimeo.

Thank You! from College of Charleston on Vimeo.

Thank You! from College of Charleston on Vimeo.

Thank You! from College of Charleston on Vimeo.