After nearly 30 years of teaching, Julie Luke’s two sons and her colleagues at Silver City Elementary School have started to ask her when she plans to retire.
No matter when they ask, she always has the same answer — “In three years.”
But in her head, she knows the truth. She won’t retire until she absolutely has to.
“As long as I’m healthy and I’m still loving it, I’ll be here,” Luke said.
The community recognized that dedication in Luke this year, voting for her as the Forsyth County News’ Teacher of the Month for March. The FCN spoke with her about her long teaching career, the time one of her students pooped in his shoe and why she fell in love with kindergarten despite hating the year in school as a child.
School: Silver City Elementary School
Years teaching: 30
Tell me about your career and how you got started teaching
“First, I wasn’t sure if I was going to go to college when I was in high school. In my generation, not everybody went to college. It wasn’t like now [where you’re expected to] go. And so when I graduated from high school, I got a job and started working in a daycare center, and I loved it.
“I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, but I wasn’t sure about the college part. I was happy to be out of high school. Did I really want to go and put in that amount of time? Plus, financially, you don’t always know how that’s going to work out, too.
“So I tried the daycare route, and during that time, I got married. That didn’t last very long. It just lasted about a year. And I decided, you know what, I’m going to do something for me. I want to be a teacher. I love kids. I want to make a difference, so that’s what I did.
“I went during the summers, so I was very, very dedicated. The core classes were a little bit harder, but once I got into the education major, I was like, this is awesome.
“Growing up, I did not like kindergarten. My mom used to have to pull me out of the car, and I’d be hanging on to things [because I did not want to go to school]. I always think back on that. Why didn’t I like it? And it’s because I was young. I was the youngest in my class; I just wasn’t ready.
“So when I went to school, and I started deciding what grade I wanted to teach, I decided I wanted to teach kindergarten.
“I grew up here and went to Kennesaw [State University], but then I met another man, and we got married and moved to Ohio where I taught kindergarten for nine years. I did teach first grade for one year, but kindergarten was definitely where I wanted to be. I just love that age.
“[After that], my husband got transferred here, and I got a job at Vickery Creek [Elementary School] …. I think I was there about seven years. That’s where we were living until we moved up here into Dawsonville. And so I got a job here …. And I’ve been at Silver City for 13 years.”
Do you still remember your first students at Silver City?
“My first year here, the kindergarten class I had [is now graduating from high school.]
“That was a great class because it felt like a family. I got to know the parents, and then when they needed to add a first grade class, they asked me to loop. Open house was like a big party because we all knew each other.
“So that group has always had a special place in my heart.”
How does it feel knowing your first students at Silver City are going to be graduating this year?
“It makes me feel old! And [I feel] a sense of pride. If I was still in Ohio, I could be having [my students’] children in my class because my first class would have been 29 years ago.
“It’s exciting, and I can’t wait to see what they do with their lives.
“But I think that’s just part of teaching. You’re not only teaching the child, but you’re forming a relationship with them and their families.
“That was one of the first things I learned early on in teaching — let the parents know they can trust you. And let them know your feelings, your ideas, your thoughts. That’s important. It’s a partnership, and you have to work together.”
What do you love about teaching kindergarteners?
“I always wanted to teach kindergarten because they love you no matter what.
“But there are many other reasons …. They are like sponges and soak in everything I teach, they love learning and get excited about it. They make teaching fun. And they are at the age where I can truly make a difference.”
What is your funniest moment you’ve had with a student in your years of teaching?
“When I first started teaching, a little boy pooped in a shoe.
“So he brought it to me, and I reach in thinking it was mulch because we had been outside. And it wasn’t. And the principal was coming in to observe me at any moment.”
What do you like to do outside of the classroom?
“I love to read. Oh my gosh, I love to read. I just started doing audio books in the car, and I’m really enjoying that.
“I like to spend time with my mom. My dad passed away in 2019, so she lives alone. So I like to go spend time with her.
“I also like to travel. My husband works for Southwest Airlines, but we haven’t been able to travel [this year] so I’m looking forward to traveling again soon. My youngest son is in the Coast Guard, and he just got stationed in Kodiak, Alaska, so he’ll be there in July. I’m hoping to visit him. And then my other son is working in Iowa.
“I should be exercising more. I’d like to say I like to hike and all that, but nope. I like to read and spend time with my family. I have a new great niece, so I like spending time with her. And I’m looking forward to having grandkids.”