Beulah kindergarten teacher sees where it all begins
Lauren Pilgrim became a teacher because of her fourth-grade teacher. Pilgrim said she always enjoyed teaching and she was doing it even when she didn’t know she was.
Pilgrim viewed teaching as a gift and her passion, so she went back to school (she was a single mother) and received her degree in early childhood and elementary education from Virginia Union University. She started her career in Richmond City Public Schools and was awarded Teacher of the Year twice (when she taught at Clark Springs Elementary and Summer Hill Preschool Center); she currently teaches at Beulah Elementary and received the award a third time for the 2019-20 school season.
In her 28 years as an educator, she has taught pre-K to second grade, was a literacy coach for 10 years, and ran a childcare learning center for three years when she moved to Georgia. During her time as a literacy coach, Pilgrim said she liked helping teachers implement ideas and programs in the classroom and she was able to travel while doing what she loved.
Pilgrim has been a kindergarten teacher at Beulah for six years, and she said her students come in with a clean slate and she likes seeing their growth at the end of the school year.
“I love kindergarten just because … [most of them] come in with a clean slate but you really see their growth,” Pilgrim said. “By the end of kindergarten, they’re reading … [and] writing, they’re doing all kinds of things they weren’t doing at the beginning of the year, but also helping to create well-rounded students.”
Pilgrim said there is a lot of pressure on kindergarteners and teachers so she lets her pupils know at the beginning of year that they don’t have to be perfect but she wants them to try. Although academics are important, that is not her primary focus as she wants to make sure her students are well rounded, and that they know she cares about them and is there for them.
“Sometimes it’s not always academic, sometimes they need to know ‘When I go to school in the morning, it’s a safe place, my teachers are going to care about me’,” Pilgrim said. “They know if they need to talk to me about anything, they can come to me and if it’s something they don’t want to [say] in front of the other students, they can [ask] if we can step into the hall.”
Pilgrim’s former pupils return to see her all the time, and two of them are her fifth-grade helpers. One of the helpers named her as his favorite teacher because she encouraged him when he had to repeat kindergarten; she cited this as one of the reasons she loves being a teacher and being able to have a positive impact.
Pilgrim isn’t sure about retirement but wants to make it to 30 years. Her church is trying to get her to work in the children’s ministry (she is involved with the choir and other leadership things), which she said she might do once she’s retired. Another retirement option is fulfilling her dream of opening up her own pre-K school to prepare four-year-olds for kindergarten, which was the reason she went back to school to get her education degree.
Pilgrim’s favorite thing about teaching is the pupils’ enthusiasm to learn and do a good job no matter what’s going on. She said her pupils know she loves them, and they tell each other that all the time.
“My favorite thing is just being able to say I’m helping to give that person a good foundation for everything else that they’re going to go through with their educational life, so I love the students,” Pilgrim said. “I call them my babies, I tell them once they’re mine, they’re always mine.”