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America’s Youngest Teacher Waited Until She Was 16 to Take Job: 'I Refuse to Be in a Pickup Line with My Students'

Shania Muhammad, 16, will graduate with her MBA in May and then plans to get her PhD

<p>Shania Muhammad</p> Shania Muhammad

Shania Muhammad

Shania Muhammad

Like many kids her age, most days you can find Shania Muhammad, 16, in the classroom. But Muhammad isn't like most teens — she's the one in charge. In fact, she's the youngest full-time teacher in America.

But achieving that unique honor at such a young age isn’t the only first for her. When the social media influencer and speaker was 15, she became the youngest student to graduate from Langston University. She also has two associate's degrees, one from Langston and another from Oklahoma City Community College.

Still, although education has always been an integral part of her family of five, Muhammad tells PEOPLE that those accomplishments weren't "part of the plan."

As learning plans across the country shifted during the COVID-19 pandemic, those around her realized she needed a "better alternative for learning." So Muhammad says her dad decided to homeschool her until she was able to start college at the age of 13.

"I accelerated so fast because I was focusing on the important things like the ACT, writing college-level essays, reading college-level material," she says. "Understanding how to reach a little bit higher than what the regular school system would've put me through."

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However, when the time came for Muhammad to apply for college, the teen admits she faced a lot of nos. Although she scored a 22 on her ACT and says she was offered an impressive $3.2 million in scholarships, those offers were sometimes complicated due to her age.

"There was a lot of, 'Man, of course, we're not [allowing] 13-year-olds to start college at our school,' " she says.

"There were some scholarships I got, and they were like, 'Well, technically she can't have room and board,' " she recalls, while other offers stipulated that she had to wait to be enrolled.

The 16-year-old teacher, who wrote about her educational journey in her book Read, Write, Listen: 13 in College, How I Did It, says she's even hopped on the phone with representatives from colleges to advocate for herself. "I was just like, 'Give me a chance,' " Muhammad recalls.

When those opportunities for higher education arose, Muhammad recalls that it was an "amazing feeling" celebrated each time with her family. "Anytime I get a letter in the mail or an email and it shows I'm admitted, my family and [I celebrate] because it is so abnormal," she adds.

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A day after graduating college, a school principal in Oklahoma City reached out to Muhammad with a job offer. But she says she decided to wait until she turned 16 since she couldn’t drive.

"I refuse to be in a pickup line with my students," she recalls thinking. "We are going to wait until I get a car and a license."

By the time she started her career, the third-grade teacher wasn't even aware that she was the youngest teacher in the U.S. until a parent told her of the achievement. She shares that she even checked with Guinness World Records before putting "it out there."

PEOPLE has reached out to Guinness World Records for comment.

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While she admits she’s received some pushback from parents about her age, she says her students have always treated her with respect.

"I tell them all the time, 'Baby, I was just in your seats a couple of years ago. We ain't that far-fetched,' " Muhammad adds.

Related: Meet the 'Kitchen Chemist,' a Science Teacher Who Cooks Up Inspiration in Virtual Classes at Home

In spite of her day job and all her early success, the teen tells PEOPLE she still likes to "have fun," just like any other teenager. "I just work like I'm an adult," she says. "It's a pretty crazy balance."

"My parents give me a lot more freedom, but we also built a great relationship with trust," says Muhammad, who still lives at home with them.

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The teen still has big goals for the future. After she graduates with her MBA in May, she says she plans to go on and get her PhD. Muhammad hopes to create her own curriculum and continue public speaking appearances.

She argues that there shouldn't be an age limit to reach one's goals, saying, "You're not too young nor too old to start."

"My imagination is so unlimited because I don't put myself in a limited space, and I don't allow others to limit me," she adds. "So when people were telling me no, I just found my yes."

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