MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. — The midway point of John Milledge Academy’s 2018-19 term came Wednesday, and also on that day a couple of career educators at the school hit a significant shared milestone.
Friends, colleagues, and JMA first-grade teachers Anne Smart and Ellen Massey were celebrated for reaching 100 years combined service in the teaching profession. Smart has been at John Milledge since 2000 after retiring from the Baldwin County School District and has taught for a total of 50 1/2 years while Massey has been educating children for 49 1/2 with 35 of them spent at JMA.
It’s estimated that in their 100 combined years in the classroom the two have impacted the lives of more than 2,000 students, including children they have tutored after the final bell and taught in summer school.
Co-workers and school administrators surprised Smart and Massey with a celebration/reception Wednesday morning to celebrate landmark achievement complete with the two’s favorite lunchtime go-to meal — yogurt and fruit.
“We just didn’t have any idea,” Massey told The Union-Recorder Thursday after finishing up after-school car duty. “We didn’t even have a clue that we were at 100 years.”
“We knew how many years we’ve been teaching, but we never thought about adding it up to 100,” Smart added.
By all accounts it’s entirely fitting that Massey and Smart are celebrating this shared milestone. Outside of being fellow first-grade teachers and classroom neighbors, the two are also great friends who share an immense love and respect for the other. They dress the same (not on purpose), have the same ideas at the same time, and both famously share a love of ladybugs. What started as a fun way to theme their classrooms has become the first thing that pops into a former student’s head whenever you mention either teacher’s name. Former students like John Milledge senior Juliann Dyer who had Mrs. Massey in first grade.
“Mrs. Massey always had the best attitude about everything because she loves teaching,” Dyer said. “I didn’t have Mrs. Smart as a teacher, but I've talked with her and both of them are just the same. They love working with their kids.”
Or students like JMA senior Logan Crosby, who fondly remembers his time as a second-grader under Mrs. Smart.
“She always had students’ attention, which I think is hard to do with children that young,” Crosby said with a smile. “I just remember that she was always very inclusive. There were no favorites. She was an amazing teacher… Even now when I stop by and see her she always wants to know how I'm doing. I think that’s important because I know there are teachers that I had in elementary school that once you were gone that was it. She always cared a lot.”
Massey is even there for her students on the athletic fields per senior Brandon Bellflower.
“Mrs. Massey has always been kind to me and she bleeds blue and gold through and through,” said Bellflower, who was in Massey’s first-grade class. “She’s definitely been a huge supporter of everything going on at school.”
Still not sold on the impact the two teachers have had on their students?
Take it from John Milledge Head of School Jessica Jones who knows Massey and Smart as their administrator, but also as a parent whose child has learned under them.
“Their amount of educational and institutional knowledge has been priceless over the years,” said Jones. “They’ve taught grandkids of former students and generations of families here to read because that’s the foundation of first grade. They not only do that, but they also push the kids and demand a lot of them in the process.”
Massey’s teaching career began in Clayton County before eventually coming to John Milledge where, in a profession where it’s not uncommon for teachers’ classrooms to be shuffled, she has taught in the same room for 35 years and loves it that way.
Both teachers noted that the implementation of technology is one major shift they have seen in their tenures, saying schools didn’t even have computers when they started. Massey pointed out another trend change as well.
“The children that come to us now know a lot more than they did when we first started,” she said. “When we first started, if they recognized the alphabet and they knew their consonant sounds, then they were pretty much ready for first grade. Now when they come to first grade they’re reading. If they’re not reading when they get here, they start falling behind.”
Smart’s has taught in Baldwin County her entire career, starting out at Carver Elementary before moving on to Northside Elementary for almost 30 years. She said her former second-grade classroom at Northside sat right about where local restaurant Stacked Sandwiches and More is located now. She retired from the school system, but decided she wasn’t done and came on board at JMA back in 2000.
As for what hasn’t changed in her more than 50 years inside the classroom, Smart said, “Students still need expectations and routines. I think school is the only place right now that they have any routine. I think the biggest change to me, sociologically, is that everybody’s so fast-paced and they have so many places to go and places to be that they live in their cars. They don't sit down together as a family much anymore because they’re always on the go. I think school gives them that place to plant their feet and know from minute to minute what’s going to happen next. Routines are really important, for little children especially, I think.”
Smart and Massey’s enthusiasm for teaching young children shows even after all these years, and neither hesitates to answer when asked why they still do it.
“We love what we do and we love coming to work,” said Smart. “It’s a reason to get up in the morning.”
“And this is a wonderful place to come work,” Massey interjected.
“We work with a great faculty and staff,” Smart went on. “It’s just a pleasure to get up and have somewhere to go. When I retired from my school and walked in these doors, it was just exactly like where I started teaching when I was teaching at Northside. It just felt like home.”