Food for the soul

Published 9:56 am Friday, May 10, 2013

Deborah Evans, right, talks with some of her former students at Windsor Middle School. The sixth-grade teacher was recently named teacher of the year at that location and overall on the secondary level. -- Stephen H. Cowles | Tidewater News

Deborah Evans, right, talks with some of her former students at Windsor Middle School. The sixth-grade teacher was recently named teacher of the year at that location and overall on the secondary level. — Stephen H. Cowles | Tidewater News


WINDSOR—By the time Deborah Evans entered college, she had planned on majoring in sociology because, as she put it, “I knew I was going to help people.”

Though she didn’t become a social worker, Evans is still helping folks, but on a considerably different level as a sixth-grade teacher. Her efforts have not gone unrecognized. She was recently named as teacher of the year for both Windsor Middle School and on the secondary level in Isle of Wight County.

After receiving word of the anonymously submitted nomination, Evans had to submit a packet of essays to a panel on topics of why she teaches, her community involvement, philosophy of teaching and an education issue. “The Power of Effective Teachers” was the topic of the last one.

“I’m very honored my colleagues respect me,” Evans said. “It’s quite an honor.”

In addition to the recognition, she also recently became a grandmother.

“It’s all good,” Evans said smiling.

Although a reception was scheduled, the prizes are not that necessary.

“It doesn’t change anything. It’s who I am,” she said. “I’m just content to influence people in a positive way. I know I’m the only positive influence many students will ever see.”

Evans continued, “I want my students to see that they can rise above whatever it is that is holding them down and accomplish whatever goals they set for themselves.

“What’s more, my experience has taught me that the oppression of a person begins with the lack of education and that education is the key to self-empowerment. Too many students think that going to school is just a way to get a job. It’s about much more than that. Education frees one from being a follower to becoming a self-led person. If you can think for yourself, you won’t allow others to think for you.”

Long before teaching other people’s children, Evans and her high school sweetheart became parents when she was a senior in high school and he a senior in college.

“Against societal expectations for teenage parents, we both persevered and become very successful in our careers,” she said. “Most importantly, we both became successful as people.”

The same holds true for the couple’s children, she added.

When she was substitute teaching in Georgia is when her principal sat Evans down and said she needed to be a teacher. Realizing she was right, the substitute worked toward certification. Later she went on to earn a master’s degree in education.

“It has been a profession that feeds my soul…it’s a powerful profession,” Evans said.

From her students she can detect what she calls little signs that they understand what’s being taught and that she’s making a difference.

“I love the kid nobody else will connect with,” she said, explaining in general, “Motivating my students means knowing my students. It means seeing what they can’t see in themselves and offering possibility. It’s in their passions and questions that they will find purpose. For me, being a good teacher means promoting an idea of faith and hope. I can read up on the latest research, take another class, implement new strategies, but it is my lessons of life that make me the greatest teacher of all.”

Not only have life lessons enriched Evans, she also eagerly credits her parents.

The daughter of Beverly and Wayne Oakes, she grew up in a rural part of Pennsylvania called Jacks Corner. From them Evans learned, she said, “how to value hard work and be successful. It pays off, obviously. I want to pass on the gift my parents taught me.”

“My parents’ valuable lessons of gratitude, honesty and the belief that no job was beneath me, influenced my decision to do something great,” she continued. “Teaching is a tribute to my parents.”

Evans lives in Southampton County with her husband, Gary, a speech therapist. Gary Jr. is a middle school student. Derik is an athletic trainer for Drayer Physical Therapy in Pennsylvania; Sarah completed college on an ROTC scholarship, and is now a lieutenant in the Army (Airborne); and Madison is a full-time student in college.

The commute from one county to another is one Evans enjoys because of her work destination.

“I love the Isle of Wight community,” she said. “This reminds me of home and the way I went to school and the type of good people and good kids. That’s hard to find; it’s a little piece of heaven. The kids feel safer here.”

Confident in her effectiveness as a teacher, Evans did say that if and when the day comes she’s not effective, that’s when it’ll be time to do something else.

For now, there’s no end in sight for her teaching.