Deborah Bailey has been teaching students in Chesterfield County for 33 years, but she is not sure if this will be her last year.
Bailey said she has been eligible for retirement for three years and after filling out and turning in the paperwork last year, she went home and cried because she wasn’t sure if she was ready.
She eventually wrote a letter to “unretire.” Now there are papers on her desk again, but she is still unsure.
“I’ve always told myself I would know when it was time to go because I don’t want to be that teacher that’s not energetic and vibrant and what’s best for the kids,” she said. “I want to go when I’m at the top of my game, not when they’re wishing I would go and so I think that’s probably going to be next year.”
Bailey taught at Chester Middle School for 25 years until it closed and said she chose Carver Middle because she wanted to stay in the community. She currently teaches social studies to Cougar Academy students at Carver Middle’s gifted program.
She started out teaching high school, but after one year begged to switch to middle school. She said middle school students are full of energy and excitement and still have a joy for learning, and that it’s a good balance for her.
“A lot of people think it’s crazy to be in middle school for 34 years, but I really like them, I like the age group,” she said. “They’re very emotional, very energized, [and] I think they’ve kept me young… They keep you excited and young as well.”
Bailey described her teaching style as hands-on and innovative, and said she was an early user of project-based learning, which she uses exclusively. As the learning method’s liaison at the school, she embraced it because she believes students benefit from it and need to be up and moving instead of only receiving lectures.
She has always been open to new things as a teacher, and has a Twitter account to keep up with what her students are interested in. She said she didn’t want to be left behind, social media is where kids are, and she believes one should meet them where they are.
“It’s amazing … how education has changed, but I don’t feel like I’ve ever been left behind so when the kids are all on Twitter and Snapchat and Instagram, I was like
‘OK. I can figure out what this is,’” she said. “Because you’ve got stay up with them or they’re going to just treat you like you’re the dinosaur that you are if you’re not up with what they’re doing.”
Bailey’s dedication to her students was reflected in her receiving teacher of the year awards from Chester and Carver middle schools.
When she started working at Carver Middle, she was surprised at the number of students who needed more support. That, coupled with violence against her students, affected her deeply, so she started the Broadwater Learning Center in the community clubhouse.
The after-school program enabled students to be more successful at school, better cope with emotional or other challenges and develop positive relationships.
“It’s an opportunity for the kids to go in there and have some tutoring and some homework help and Wi-Fi, and that’s it,” she said.
Bailey said she didn’t want the center to be dependent on her alone; it now has paid workers and YMCA staff. She is still “iffy” on retirement, but may volunteer at the learning center full-time when she does.