All in the family
By Jennifer Ginn
PONTOTOC - If the Pontotoc schools ever lost the family of Jane Gregory, they would be in a world of hurt.
Gregory is a veteran teacher of 41 years and still teaches two classes at South Pontotoc High School. Two of her daughters, Cathy Russell and Rhonda Denton, teach down the hall from each other at Pontotoc Junior High School.
But that's only the beginning of the educators in the Gregory family.
"There's eight in my school district that are related," Russell said.
"I tried to count one time with my brothers and sisters and their children," Gregory said. "I got in the 20s or 30s that are teachers. There are a good many. It's just a thing in our family."
Most of those educators are involved, one way or another, in math. And they aren't just ordinary teachers.
Gregory is a member of the Mississippi STAR Teacher Hall of Fame. Russell and Denton just earned their certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
"My sister, Methyl (pronounced ME-thel) Hodges taught all of my high school mathematics," Gregory said. "I taught with her for 14 years in Starkville. At one time, she was Teacher of the Year of Mississippi. I'm from a family of teachers.
"She had a great influence on my teaching career. She taught me and I taught with her. I taught all four of my children for several years because I was the high school math teacher at the time."
This family proves that wanting to be a teacher must be in the genes.
Where it started
Gregory, 65, is a graduate of the now-defunct Randolph High School. She said her parents had a lot to do with how her life has turned out.
"My mother and father weren't teachers, but they expected a lot of us as we were growing up, the nine children," she said. "When I was 5 years old, I knew I was supposed to teach. I've just always known I was going to be a teacher.
"I made $1,800 the first year I taught school. I lived at home with my mother and father, but Cokes were a nickel and bread was 15 cents."
That dedication to teaching helped influence Russell and Denton to follow the same path.
"I think watching her as an educator" influenced me, Russell said. "She just always kept up with the new techniques, methods and strategies. I think it is genetic, especially the mathematics part."
Gregory is a math teacher and even taught night classes in trigonometry at Itawamba Community College for a while. Russell teaches sixth-grade math and science at Pontotoc Junior High, while Denton teaches fifth-grade math, science and social studies.
"I never had a desire to do anything else," Denton said.
National Board sisters
Denton and Russell made some history of their own this year when they both completed National Board certification at the same time. Russell said she believes they are the only sisters to earn certification at the same time this year.
To earn certification by the National Board, teachers must undergo a rigorous, yearlong assessment of their teaching methods. They also must pass tests that determine how much they know about the subject they teach.
These sisters just called it a challenge.
"If there was something to make us a better teacher, we were supposed to do it," Russell said. "Of course, the money was an incentive. It didn't take us long after we started that we realized it was a personal achievement, not just the money."
The state pays National Board certified teachers an additional $6,000 per year for the 10-year life of the certificate. Pontotoc City adds an additional $1,000 a year.
"We went to one National Board workshop just to see what this is all about," Denton said. "We weren't even thinking about it, I don't think, at the time.
"One of the things they told us in that workshop, if you have small children, forget it. Well, that was just a challenge to us. I have three children. The youngest one was 1 when I was working through this. Cathy has two. But we had a good grandmother."
Gregory did more than just look after her grandchildren while her daughters worked together on their certification.
"She tutored us for the test," said Russell.
For love of the children
Between Gregory and her two daughters, there is more than 70 years of teaching experience. Denton and Russell said they hope they will be in the classroom for many more years.
What is it that keeps teachers teaching?
"There's a lot of jobs you can go and work 8 to 5 or 9 to 5 and you don't get the self-satisfaction that you do when you see a light bulb come on when you explain something to a child," Russell said.
"What would you do that you get more energy out of," Gregory asked. "What else would you do if you're a natural-born teacher?"