41 first days: Teacher ready to meet next family

By Austin Jackson | Published Saturday, August 11, 2018

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Another One

ANOTHER ONE – Alvord kindergarten teacher Judy Smith prepares for her 41st first day at Alvord Elementary School. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Behind Judy Smith’s classroom doors are colorful cubbies, itty bitty chairs, crayons for days and plenty of joy.

Smith teaches kindergarten at Alvord, but ask any of her former students and they’ll tell you, she does much more than teach. When the first bell rings, Smith dances, sings, dishes out hugs to her students and even introduces them to foreign technology – vinyl records.

“They call them ‘big CDs,'” Smith said.

It’s been that way since 1978, when she started her teaching career at Alvord Elementary School. The technology has changed, some methods have evolved, but one thing has remained the same,

“I just love it. I love the kids,” Smith said.

Despite having 40 first days under her belt, Smith can’t help but feel nervous heading into the 41st first day of her teaching career.

Each class is unique and no first day is the same.

“The first days of school are always exciting for me, but I get nervous, too,” she said. “I’m like the kids. They’re scared, and I’m a little scared. Some have never been to school. Some will cry, and I’ll have to coax them in and comfort them. And then I’ll have to coax and comfort the parents, too – coax them to leave.”

Smith said the first day can be hectic, but the last days of school are always the hardest.

She forms a tight bond with her students. She sees their bright faces every day and helps them through their struggles and triumphs. Then in May, they leave.

“I love the first day because it’s a new year, but by the last day of school every year I’m always real sad,” she said. “I’m not losing them, but they’re moving on. And I’ve had them all year. They are my kids; we are like a family. And it’s like losing your family.”

Most of Smith’s 41 years have been spent teaching kindergartners. She taught third grade for five years and second grade for two years, but every other year has been spent introducing 5- and 6-year-olds to education.

“The rest has always been right here,” she said.

Smith discovered her love of teaching at an early age, first as a babysitter then at Bible school. When she was in her 20s, Smith moved from Arlington to Alvord and started her teaching career. It was a culture shock at first, going from a big city to a small town, but soon she fell in love with her job and eventually the community.

“I fell in love with the kids and teaching. They return that love back to me,” she said.

A unique benefit Smith said she’s recieved from her career is seeing students come back, as parents. She routinely teaches kids of former students.

And some students have become colleagues. The school nurse and first grade teacher at Alvord are former Smith pupils.

“Seeing them grow up before my eyes is a blessing,” Smith said. “You see these little children grow into adults. And then I get to teach their kids.”

Smith actually contemplated retirement last year, but she just couldn’t do it.

It wasn’t because of the money. It was because of the kids, she said.

“I was going to last year. I had made up my mind, and I had decided I was going to retire,” Smith said. “‘I’m at the age now that I can retire, but I just couldn’t do it. What would I do? This is my life.”

Smith said in two years she’ll confront the decision to retire, but as long as she’s physically able to teach, she will be at Alvord doing what she does best – love on the little ones.

“I’ll be here for as long as I can,” Smith said.

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