Becky Smith is leaving teaching, but she’s not leaving education entirely.
Smith retired this summer after 25 years of teaching, including the past eight at Big Creek Elementary School, and she’s looking forward to it. She hopes to (eventually) visit her son in California, spend more time in the gym, help more at her church, and do more things with her husband, who retired six years ago.
But barely months into retirement, Smith has already lined up a few tutoring gigs – even with one of her former students.
“So I’m not really out of it, out of it,” Smith said.
Smith was voted the Forsyth County News’s Teacher of the Month for June by readers, and she spoke with us about how she got into teaching, why she thinks kindergarten is the most important grade, and how teaching changed during her career.
How did you know you wanted to be a teacher?
“Actually, I was not a teacher to begin with. I majored in English and political science.
“I was working and just didn’t find what I was doing very fulfilling. There was a shortage of teachers, and I thought, ‘I loved my English classes.’ So I thought, ‘I’ll teach English.’ So I went back to Georgia State University and got certified to teach.
“I taught for a year, got pregnant, and thought, ‘Yeah, I’m staying home.’ It’s a lot of work to teach high school. There’s a lot of essays to grade; it never ends.
“After my kids got in school, I went back and just parapro’ed and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I love this. This is what I want to do. This is my passion.’
“And so I got my master’s in early childhood education and started teaching kindergarten.”
“Having taught other grades, it is, I think, the most important grade. Kindergarten is the foundation from which to build. They get a not-a-good kindergarten experience, it can affect them forever.
How did teaching kindergarten change over the years?
“When I started, it was a lot of social-emotional things. It wasn’t very academic in the beginning. We used to not test them in their reading skills. It was kind of an introduction to education.
“Now, they’re reading well, writing well in different genres in kindergarten. It’s so rewarding when their little eyes light up.
“So it went from not very academic to very academic, and they can do it. It’s just amazing.”
What was your favorite thing about teaching?
“I’ve just always loved the relationships that I built with the kids over the years and the families. That hasn’t changed.
“I still keep in touch. I still get graduation announcements from college. ‘Once my baby, always my baby,’ is what I’ve always said.”
Why was this the right time for you to retire?
“My husband is retired; he’s been retired for six years – and he’s been waiting for me to retire so we can do other things.
“I’ve already gotten some tutoring things lined up. I’m even going to help one of my former students. So I’m not really out of it, out of it, but I need more flexibility.”
Do you have any big retirement plans?
“My son teaches art in California. We were supposed to fly out to see him, but the coronavirus has pushed that back.
“Just trying to get to the gym. I still want to keep a hand in teaching. I still want to help and have a purpose.”
What advice would you give a new teacher?
“I would say build relationships with both the kids and the parents. It’s not just about the education. It’s really about knowing the kids. They’ll work for you more if you care about them. So caring about your kids. Caring about the parents. If you care about them, you’re going to do the best you can with them.
“And not to sweat the small stuff.”