FAIRMONT — There was only one thing standing between kindergarten teacher Joyce Evans and her retirement.
Bombarding her with hugs in her classroom at Jayenne Elementary School, Evans’ students told her that she wasn’t allowed to go.
But it wasn’t meant to be.
This week, the Marion County Board of Education approved Evans’ retirement after 45 1/2 years of service, making the last day of the school year Wednesday her last day — for good.
“When I got up this morning, I thought, ‘this is the last day and the first day of the rest of my life,’” she said. “It’s surreal. I’ve been coming to school every day for 45 1/2 years.”
With her students gathered before her, she talked about she dreamed of being a teacher as a little girl.
“It’s been living my dream, from the time I was in the first grade, because I didn’t get to go to kindergarten,” she said. “There was no kindergarten in my Monongah Elementary School. It started with grade one. It was my dream because in first grade, the teacher was not very nice.”
She said the teacher smacked the students when they misbehaved. So, she told herself, as a 5-year-old, that she would be a nice teacher someday who would make school fun so the children would want to come to school.
After graduating from Fairmont State College on Dec. 22, 1972 with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a specialization in kindergarten and library science, she began her first job 10 days later. On Jan. 2, 1973 at the then-newest school in the county, East Dale Elementary School, Evans began her career teaching grades 1-3.
In 1980, she went to Monongah Elementary School — her hometown — to teach kindergarten, until 2008. Then she became a traveling coach for preschool and kindergarten all over Marion County with the Marion County Board of Education.
“I was called the bag lady,” Evans said. “I put my lessons in book bags, and I traveled to the classroom and modeled math and reading lessons.”
In 2012, she came to Jayenne Elementary School as a kindergarten teacher.
The incoming principal, Scott Morris, was a familiar face. That’s because she taught two full years back in the 1990s at Fairmont State in the Education Department as part of the Public School Teaching Fellow program, and Morris was one of her students.
“I came here as a kindergarten teacher to a principal that I taught at Fairmont State when I was there in 1990s,” she recalled. “He could be my son. He taught kindergarten before he came here, and we came here together.”
“It’s amazing the amount of years that she’s put in, the dedication she’s had to students of Marion County,” said Morris, adding Evans has taught three generations in some cases. “It’s amazing to see that.”
Outgoing Marion County School Superintendent Gary Price also commended Evans.
“She has been a superb teacher in the Marion County School System,” Price said. “I’ve known Ms. Evans for most of our careers, because they’ve kind of paralleled each other, as far as the years that we were employed, and she always had a reputation of just being a superb teacher, very well-prepared, but at the same time, very nurturing and supportive of her students.”
Price said all the parents wanted their child in her room. Evans said the highlights of her career were teaching kids to read and teaching them to be responsible, well-mannered students who are kind to each other.
A certain outlook on teaching has guided her many years in the classroom.
“My philosophy of teaching is to be as creative as you can be, and to make kids want to come to school because you can’t teach them if they’re not here,” she said.
Evans also aspired to be a good role model who was always positive. She taught the students to make good choices and to have good relationships with their parents.
In her retirement, Evans plans to spend time her with her grandson, Johnston Donn Evans, and her husband, Donnie.
“My husband put it best: ‘now, we’ll get to enjoy you more,’” Evans said.
Eric Hrin can be reached at (304) 367-2549.