Teacher, Teacher I Declare

Written by Shelbye Porter Almeida.

Three Panola County Teachers Share

When I think back on my childhood, my memories are flooded with school days gone by. One vivid memory included an assignment from my sixth grade teacher, Kay Davis, on what we wanted to be when we grew up. I carefully scripted my future with a number two pencil on a sheet of wide-ruled notebook paper. When the day came for us to present our work, I stood up and shared my hopes and dreams of becoming a model.

After finishing my very personal soliloquy, I was quickly confronted with ridiculing whispers. My bright dreams of becoming a model were darkened when a fellow classmate hissed in my ear that I was too fat. Of course, I was visibly upset, and Mrs. Davis was concerned. With comforting words, she assured me I could accomplish any goal I set my mind to and indicated the hissing situation would be handled. Fast forward 25 years, and my dream of becoming a model was accomplished. Although I never became a fashion model sauntering down the catwalks of NYC, I became much more. I am a ROLE MODEL and teacher. My every word or action is silently studied by my impressionable students. Just as Mrs. Davis inspired me years ago, I continue the tradition by encouraging my students to follow their dreams. This article is dedicated to my fellow “models” in Panola County.

When the first bell of the 2017-18 school year sounds,  these three role models will be found in their classrooms anxiously awaiting the arrival of their new students: Beckville ISD’s band director, James Bogs; winner of the Panola Watchman’s Elementary Teacher of the Year award, Carthage Primary first grade teacher, Evelyn Wedgeworth; and new science teacher in Gary ISD, Grace Tilley.

From early in the morning until late in the evening, James Bogs can be found around the Beckville ISD band hall. The 1999 Cleveland High School graduate followed the path of higher education to Panola College and then ETBU, where he obtained his Bachelor’s Degree in music. After college, James joined the staff of Northside Christian Academy in Carthage for three years, serving as youth pastor while also teaching music and theater. A change of scenery and desire for adventure directed him to Daingerfield ISD, where he taught junior high band for one year and high school band for four years. His travels continued and steered him to his current destination at Beckville ISD, where he is starting his sixth year. This teacher of 14 years decided to pursue the profession because of his love for band and music. James wanted to follow in the footsteps of his high school band directors, Jim Jones and Jon Kelly. During his senior year, he fondly remembers Kelly taking music he wrote and arranging it to be played in the spring concert. Throughout his tenure, many students have touched his life. Several students have come through the band hall with enormous God-given talent, providing him with a challenge to encourage them musically and educationally. Drum majors and student leaders have also inspired James by taking programs from basically nothing and building them into what they are today. He relays how amazing it is watching students flourish and grow. A major concern he has for students today is social media and the way students absolutely live for “likes.” His personal motto is “never stop learning.” When asked if he would do it all again, he does not hesitate, exclaiming, “Oh yeah!”  Music to BISD students’ ears!

Evelyn Wedgeworth is a first grade teacher at her alma matter, Carthage ISD. She graduated from Panola College and then SFA with her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Elementary Education. She has been in the classroom for 32 years. She began her career at Gary ISD, teaching there for eight years and then moving to Carthage ISD, where she has remained for 24 years. From an early age, Evelyn showed a knack for teaching. As a child, she remembers taking her chalkboard, lining up her stuffed animals, and conducting lessons. When nearing high school graduation, she had a conversation with her father about her future. Remembering his little girl and her stuffed animals, he pointed her toward becoming a teacher. Also inspiring Panola County’s favorite elementary teacher were high school teachers Steve Garrett and David Pass. She explains it wasn’t the subjects they taught, but their rapport with students. She relates how much the teaching profession has changed through the years, progressing from teachers basically lecturing to the whole class to meeting student needs individually by completely customizing lessons.  When she started teaching, she believes the profession was held in higher esteem than it is now. Evelyn says that throughout her tenure,  many students have impacted her life. She recalls a student she had to take to the nurse’s office every morning to clean him up. There have also been students who didn’t have appropriate clothes for the season, and she would help get them what they needed. She says being a mother gave her great empathy, knowing how much she would want someone to help care for her children if she couldn’t. Evelyn also tells of two children with big personalities that she will never forget: Garrett Williams (whose story was in the March-April 2017 edition of Crossroads) and Cole DePriest, a precious youngster who is “Walking with Jesus.” Even though they are gone, she cherishes her memories of them and knows they will always hold a special place in her heart. Looking back, Evelyn believes she would still choose teaching as her profession. However, given the chance to modify any aspect of her career, she says she would have paid closer attention to issues facing teachers. For anyone wanting to become a teacher, she advises having a positive outlook, being involved in all aspects of the profession, and using your voice in decision making situations. She believes that teaching is an awesome responsibility, with more positive experiences than negative. She could have already retired, but says she will keep teaching as long as she feels she is making a difference. (On a personal note, I’m ecstatic that she is still in the classroom. She taught me in second grade, taught my son in kindergarten, and taught my daughter last year. I can’t wait for her to teach my grandbabies!) One thing that sets her apart is that at the beginning of every school year, she prays for her new class and asks the Lord to place students in her class she can inspire. Evelyn Wedgeworth: an inspirational teacher!

New to Gary ISD, teacher Grace Tilley is beginning her fourth year of teaching. The 2008 Carthage High School graduate furthered her education at Texas A&M Galveston, obtaining her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Ocean and Coastal Resources. Upon finishing her advanced degree, a friend called to inform her that Martinsville ISD needed a teacher with a background in science. Grace had never even considered teaching as a career, but she applied and was hired. When she accepted the teaching position, she secured her alternative teaching certification from Texas Teachers. Soon after taking the position, she visited her high school science teacher, Nola Manis, in whose class she fell in love with science. Because Grace had not trained in college to be a teacher, she looked to her former teacher as a mentor and was rewarded with wonderful support, including necessary materials and lots of encouragement that she was ready to take her place at the head of the classroom. At the end of this past school year, Gary ISD posted a vacancy for a science teacher and Grace applied, with hopes of moving closer to home. Much to her excitement, she was hired. As a new teacher to the district, she says that learning to incorporate the educational tools available can be overwhelming. For example, even though the Anatomy and Physiology textbook she will instruct from is the same one she used in high school, the content is presented in a completely different manner. Grace’s own school projects were customarily homemade and crafted using poster boards. Now, students are charged with making complicated interactive presentations on iPads. Even though her teaching career is young, she recalls many students who have already impacted her life. She particularly remembers a student she taught who had experienced a lifelong struggle with the reading disability dyslexia. Despite self-doubt in her academic abilities, the student persisted with tutorials with Grace and passed the mandated state assessment, a source of joy for both teacher and student and a pivotal moment in Grace’s teaching career. If given the chance to start over, Grace says she is 100 percent certain she would still choose to be a teacher. She credits her life experiences and education for helping shape her into the teacher she is today and believes teaching has transformed her into a completely different person. The once soft-spoken, shy girl has become an outgoing, energetic teacher. Her advice for anyone wanting to become a teacher: you must absolutely love what you do. Students will feed off of your attitude and sense your desire or aversion for the classroom. She concludes: if you show students how much you care, they will meet your expectations, learn, and thrive. Grace Tilley: a caring teacher!

These three Panola County educators are joining teachers across the county who are ready, no matter their level of experience, to inspire the next generation of students.