Thirty-six years, and it’s still like Day One

Bobbie Lawson still doesn’t sleep the night before the first day of school. “I think as long as I have that energy, then, that helps a lot,” said Lawson, a fifth-grade teacher at Bessie Weller Elementary School in Staunton, the 2008 Staunton Teacher of the Year.

Lawson has been at Bessie Weller for 36 years, but it’s still like Day One most days – even if she’s seeing the faces of children that she taught years ago coming through.

What keeps it fresh? Teaching “is one of the few jobs that I know of where in June, you’re kinda done, and then you start all over again in September,” Lawson said. “Any other job, you just keep at it. In this job, you really see progress in the kids during the year that you have them,” Lawson said.

Progress, or attempts at progress, anyway, in the broader sense have come in her career in the form of the Virginia Standards of Learning and federal No Child Left Behind programs. “Those tests probably have brought more changes to education than anything that I could think of. Both good and bad,” Lawson said. “I see them as standards. I feel like a coach when we give the tests in the spring. I’ve done all the workouts I can do, and then I have to sit back and see how they do on their own as they sit there and take those tests,” Lawson said.

“At first it really took the fun out of teaching, because you couldn’t do the spontaneous kind of teaching that makes learning fun for kids,” Lawson said. “Now so much has to be tied into those standards for your grade level, and you can make just about anything fit,” Lawson said.

Lawson teaches math and science, and her science classes include a unit on oceanography that has her and the kids taking an out-of-classroom trip to Virginia Beach every year. “I’m glad I don’t live in Kansas, because one of the things that we get to do is spend time on the beach, and they see the water. For some of them, the biggest body of water they’ve seen is Lake Tams at Gypsy Hill Park. So we go there, and then we go to the Virginia Aquarium,” Lawson said.

“It’s those kinds of experiences – I really enjoy that aspect to teaching, sharing those experiences. Whether it’s a good book that they’ve read, or when they finally can do double-digit division, and they can get the right answer. It’s those experiences – I guess that’s why I still do it,” Lawson said.


– Story by Chris Graham

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