Ivor teacher retires after 44 years

Published 9:44 am Saturday, July 25, 2015

merle monahan | The Tidewater news Valerie P. Ricks holds up two of four plaques she received recognizing her outstanding teacher abilities, longevity.

merle monahan | The Tidewater news
Valerie P. Ricks holds up two of four plaques she received recognizing her outstanding teacher abilities, longevity.

Valerie Purdie Ricks, who just retired after 44 years as a public schoolteacher, has been a strong advocate of education for as long as she can remember. Starting in elementary school, the Ivor native remembers wanting to follow in the footsteps of an aunt who was a teacher, and that’s exactly what she did.

Ricks earned her special education teaching degree from Virginia State College after graduating from Southampton High School in the first integrated class in 1967. After college in 1971, the 66-year-old immediately started her teaching career.

“I have spent two thirds of my life educating local students,” she said, adding with a smile, that’s been long enough to have taught the children and grandchildren of some of her first students.

Ricks said she decided to retire in part due to the changing environment and to spend more time with her family. When it became official on June 15, she was presented with four plaques for her longevity and outstanding teaching abilities — one from the Surry School Board, one from Surry High School and two from the Surry County Educational Association.

“It’s going to be hard adjusting, I think,” Ricks said. “When you’ve gone to school for so many years, you just automatically think of starting your day in the classroom.”

The mother of two with one grandchild, is perhaps appropriately married to another teacher/principal, James Ricks, who retired after 33 years in education. He was principal of Southampton Middle School at his retirement.

“When Junie retired, I asked him when I should do the same thing, Ricks said.

“You’ll know when you want to stop,” her husband replied.

When the active grandmother started her teaching career, she taught in the Southampton County Schools for four years, then transferred to the Surry County School system, where she completed another 40 years.

“I really love teaching,” the special education and inclusion teacher admitted. “But technology and state mandates have changed so many things in the school system, especially the way we teach. Students don’t really learn the basics. For instance, some can’t even read or do cursive writing, not to mention basic arithmetic. Computers and calculators have changed all that.

“And we no longer have blackboards. In fact, some of my later students probably have never seen one. They have been replaced by smart boards.”

“Now I’m not saying these tools don’t help. They are absolutely necessary because students need to learn how to live in today’s world. But I think students should learn the basics as well.”

As for discipline, Ricks said that during her years in the classroom, she has seen students go from mannerly and respectful to those who show no respect for adult authority.

“It’s very disheartening to feel that parents seem to condone this sort of behavior.

“But it’s understandable, I suppose. Today, parents are so busy, they don’t have the time to work with their children,”

Despite her busy schedule, Ricks has always been involved in her children’s activities, including schoolwork.

“I like to think it made a difference,” she said.

There is no doubt that it did. Her son, Doran, 39, lives in Ft. Lee, New Jersey and commutes to New York, where he is director of decision support for Mt. Sinai Health Systems.

Her daughter, Denika Briggs, 35, is a licensed clinical social worker in private practice, who is supervisor of foster care and adoption for Chesterfield County/Colonial Heights.

Danika and her husband, Sherrell, have a son, Aiden, 6, and live in Richmond.

One of Ricks’ objectives, now that she is no longer working, is to spend more time with her grandson. She also plans to travel with her husband a little and eventually become more involved in her college sorority, Delta Sigma Theta.

Ricks says her years with the school system have been happy.

“I can’t see myself ever doing anything else. I have had some wonderful experiences,” she revealed with a smile.

“For one, I have become friends with some great people, including Surry Principal Rita Holmes and head teacher, Regina Charity.”

Ricks said these two are also retiring after more than 40 years each and admitted that they are another reason she decided to leave.

“After teaching under Rita, I didn’t know how I’d adjust to getting acquainted with a new principal.”

Although she is pleased with her record, the long-time educator said that some of her proudest moments are when some of her students, who have gone to college and are successful in business, return to visit and tell her how much they appreciate the things she taught them.

“That makes it all worthwhile,” Ricks said. “It warms my heart.”