Dicy McCullough column: Patti Secreast the definition of a great teacher
There’s no question this year has meant lots of changes for teachers in North Carolina, including North Rowan Middle School teacher Patti Secreast. Loving every minute of teaching in the Rowan Salisbury Schools, after 37 years, she knew it was time to retire for good.
Known in the Spencer area as a caring teacher, everyone I talked with had nothing but praise for her. One of Patti’s colleagues, Sandra Hache, said when she began working at North as a substitute and later as an assistant, Patti made her feel welcome. “She always had an upbeat attitude and a smile. If Patti had problems of her own, you never knew it.”
While it’s true Patti was upbeat with her colleagues and students, it’s hard for her to be optimistic and upbeat about the direction of education today. When I visited with her, recently, one of the first things she commented about was how hard teachers work. Knowing teachers spend their own money to make sure students have needed supplies and materials, she said, “Spending cuts send the message their hard work and efforts are not appreciated. Not only that, these cuts also send a message to students they are not important. In actuality, they are the most important link in our society. They are our future.”
On the topic of no pay increase for advanced degrees, Patti said, “What business doesn’t want their employees to hold advanced degrees, rewarding the ones who are willing to obtain them? In fact, most businesses will pay an employee to go back to school, but teachers have to pay their own way. In my opinion, a Masters degree helps a teacher learn and grow, which, in turn, helps students learn and grow.”
Wearing many hats throughout her teaching career, Patti’s latest role was site coordinator for the Community in Schools program at North Rowan Middle. This program assists entire families through mentoring, providing food for the weekends, helping adult family members further their education and arranging transportation when necessary for various services and activities, such as doctor visits, concerts, club meetings and sports events.
Patti believes the extra effort of helping a child find their niche often makes the difference not only in their performance at school, but also staying in school. By providing opportunities not available otherwise, the Community in Schools program often gives students the motivation to get out of bed in the morning, helping them to flourish and become well-adjusted students.
When asked what advice she would give beginning teachers, Patti shared an experience that occurred one summer while teaching summer school at North Rowan High. It was the next to last day of school and Patti was worried about a student who had two absences and two tardies. If he received one more tardy, he would not pass the class because three tardies counted as an absence and three absences meant automatic failure.
Planning to give a test the next morning, Patti reminded the student to be on time. With his parents out of town, he said he would set his alarm clock and wouldn’t be late. Patti could only hope for the best.
Unfortunately, when the first bell rang, he was not in his seat. Thinking about the situation, Patti decided to make a phone call to his home. When the student answered, he said he over slept and wanted to know what to do. Patti told him to come on to school and she would let him in the back door.
Living close to school, he made it in 15 minutes, took the test and graduated. That same student is now a successful businessman. If Patti had gone strictly by the rules, that student’s life may have turned out differently. Patti said sometimes it’s more important to use your heart than your head because students are real people with real lives in situations that can’t always be covered by a rule book.
In addition to using your heart, Patti also advises new teachers to keep a journal. She said, “You think you won’t forget, but you will. When students say funny things or tell about interesting situations, if you don’t write them down, trying to remember them later, they just won’t come. There’s been many a time I wish I had written down a clever thought a student said.”
Patti’s best advice for new teachers is to love what you do and love your students. “If you do these two things, you won’t go wrong.” Harriet Goodlett, a teacher friend and colleague has seen first hand Patti’s love for teaching and her students. She said, “Patti’s students loved her because she loved them. She just had that caring, motherly demeanor about her. In fact, she cared about everyone that way. She was always sharing information or materials with fellow teachers. You don’t see much of that any more. There’s no doubt Patti’s going to be missed.”
Apparently Patti has so much of an impact as a teacher and role model that even her two daughters have followed in her footsteps.
Her oldest daughter, Melissa, is currently an EC teacher at North Rowan Middle, while Molly is finishing her elementary education degree at Pfeiffer University, planning to graduate in December.
If you look in the dictionary for the word, “teacher,” don’t be surprised if you see Patti Secreast’s name written there. One of those rare gems, she embodies the definition of “teacher” because for her it wasn’t a job or career, but a calling. Congratulations, Patti on your well deserved retirement. You so deserve it, but with your enthusiasm and zeal for life, I have a feeling you haven’t retired, you’ve only just begun.