North Carolina teacher steps into classroom for 50th year
GASTONIA, N.C. (AP) — For the past 50 years, her passion for teaching has been rivaled only by an enduring devotion to her students.
Mamie Chisholm begins her day shortly after 5 a.m. She meditates with, prays to and thanks God, eats breakfast, and then gets dropped off by her husband, Terry, at Ashbrook High School, where she teaches two morning French classes. It’s a daily routine she’s repeated since becoming a teacher at the former Belmont High School in 1968, the only current employee to have started teaching the same year Gaston’s public schools unified following integration.
She’s humble, she’s gracious, she gives hugs, she’s adored by faculty and students alike. Many students call her “maman,” the French word for “mom.” She’s a two-time Gaston County Schools Teacher of the Year. And with an unwavering love for it all, she has no immediate plans of stopping.
“It’s just something about the feeling on the inside, it is hard to explain,” she said. “I just love teaching. I just love doing what I do.”
Chisholm, whose maiden name is Garvin, was born in 1945 and grew up in Gastonia. She later graduated from the former Lincoln High in Bessemer City. Her parents instilled in her a love for teaching, though they did not work in education themselves.
She attended college at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, where she took several French classes, drawing the attention of several teachers who took notice of her abilities. They encouraged her to become a French teacher, though Chisholm was hesitant at first.
“I said ’Oh, heck no,” said Chisholm, who had no other connection to France other than her high school and college classes.
But after thinking for a time on it, she decided it was her calling.
“I decided that’s what I wanted to do, and I too felt like I was good at it. I wanted to be as good as I wanted to be,” she said.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in French and teaching, and a minor in psychology, Chisholm found her first teaching job at a school in Troy in 1967. There, she lived in a teacherage with several other educators and saw Terry once a week, whom she was dating at the time.
The following year, her mother notified her of an open position to teach French at Belmont High. She met with Principal Gerald Cortner, and landed the job. Belmont High closed the following year, and she moved to the new South Point High.
She remembers being one of few black teachers in the early years, and says she faced some instances of prejudice from certain colleagues, but did not let it discourage her.
“We were taught to be proud of who you are, that’s what my parents taught us. So I’ve always been proud of who I am. I’m African-American. My parents taught us not to see color. So it didn’t’ matter to me that I was the only black there. I was going to do my job, do what I’m supposed to do, and that’s what I did,” said Chisholm.
She and Terry, who retired from and still works part time for the Gaston County Sheriff’s Office, would marry, and had two daughters. Their oldest is a French teacher at South Point High and youngest, a nurse supervisor in Charlotte.
Mamie Chisholm remained at South Point High until retiring in 2000.
But she returned to education as a librarian the following year at Woodhill Elementary. She would earn the necessary certifications for the job online from East Carolina University.
She remained a school librarian until 2007, when she returned to the classroom as a French teacher at Ashbrook. She worked full time for several years and has since parred down to her current part-time schedule.
And since she began teaching French in Gaston’s public schools in 1968, Mamie Chisholm has always found ways to keep things fresh and exciting in and out of the classroom, even as the generations and school climates change.
“Every generation is so different. They make you want to learn new strategies,” she said. “You just can’t do the same thing every year.”
She says that recent innovations in technology have created some of the most changes in her own approach to teaching in her career. She regularly consults with colleagues about emerging technologies and has implemented online quizzes, games and other digital education tools in to her lessons. She misses the Smartboard that she used to have in her classroom.
Chisholm notes that along with technology, there’s more paperwork and other requirements involved with the profession than 50 years ago. Ashbrook Principal Rebecca Wilson says Chisholm isn’t required to attend the rigorous professional development training as full-time teachers, but chooses to attend anyway simply to keep up.
“I try and learn every little tidbit I can,” said Chisholm.
Chisolm has long partnered with elementary schools to have her high school French students teach the language to their younger peers. Each Friday, she and her advanced French students at Ashbrook travel to Gardner Park Elementary to do just this.
Twelfth-grader Sherlyn Gonzalez says that experience teaching younger students has helped her to develop and nurture other life skills, and considers Chisholm like a mother at school.
“She makes you feel engaged in what you’re doing. She makes you feel at home,” said Gonzalez. “She tells you if you’re doing something wrong, she’ll let you know. She doesn’t hold back. I know that I can go to her if I need something.”
And Chisholm’s school and district have not let her forget her 50 years of dedication to Gaston’s students. During teacher convocation prior to the start of the school year, teachers brought out a throne for Chisholm as the adoring crowd cheered her on. She will also be prominently featured in the school system’s 50th anniversary parade through downtown Gastonia on Sept. 22.
But Chisholm is mostly focused on what she’s done best for 50 years: inspiring the impressionable young minds sitting in her classroom. She regularly encourages students to pursue their own passions, and to “dream higher and higher.”
“I have this saying: If I can help somebody as I pass along, then my living will not be in vain. So my students, my children, I’m just very passionate about what I do,” she said. “If you love what you do and you make that child know that you love what you do, and that you’re going to be sure that they can, they will be successful.”
As her last class on Friday dismissed, Chisholm stepped to the curb and hopped into the passenger seat beside her husband, who still picks her up from work each day.
Information from: The Gaston Gazette, http://www.gastongazette.com