By JUDY SHERIDAN
Debbie Reedy, a retiring kindergarten teacher at Vandagriff Elementary, has no trouble remembering her first day teaching school. She prepared 26 3-foot-tall inflatable letters — one for each letter in the alphabet — and welcomed the same number of happy, bouncy 5-year-olds.
It was a little too close for comfort, she recalls, and pretty much everything else.
“They were hitting them all day long,” she laughed. “I learned a lesson that day.”
In 38 years of teaching, all at Aledo ISD, Reedy, hired in April of 1975, has learned volumes from her hundreds of active, curious students — some the sons and daughters of others she’s instructed.
“Experience says a lot when you’ve taught school,” she said. “Maybe you pick up on needs quicker. Less is more with some. There is the gift of time; every child is not going to learn at the same time.
“But I tell them that every bird flies as high as it can. You cannot compare one against the other.”
Reedy, a tall, attractive 60-year-old, hails from Central Texas. She grew up on a ranch/farm and attended junior college on a basketball scholarship, later graduating from Tarleton State University.
Moving to White Settlement with her husband, Jack, she was shocked by nearby Fort Worth and all the airplane traffic at Carswell Air Force Base.
“I have relatives in this little country town,” Jack offered, and introduced Reedy to Aledo, which she loved.
Charles McAnally was superintendent then, Reedy said, and Willard Stuard was principal of Aledo Elementary, which later became Coder Elementary.
Originally she was hired to teach second grade, she said. She really wanted to teach kindergarten though, and fate intervened.
While attending an in-service five days before school was to start, Reedy was asked to change course when a kindergarten teacher unexpectedly failed to return.
“I had to move to the other end of the hall,” she said. “Ms. Vandagriff mentored me. She was an angel. She helped me.”
In her years as a teacher, Reedy has seen a lot of change, which she embraces because she believes it better prepares students.
“Kids used to learn to print their name and letters, that was the extent of it — now they read and write and do math,” she said.” A lot of it has to do with society and technology.”
She views her job — which she is passionate about — as that of a foundation builder, teaching not only the basic academics, but also the courage to take risks, the intelligence to ask for help and the compassion to help others.
“I tell them, ‘Be nice, be kind, let your love light shine,’” she said. “They learn that we’re a school family that works together.”
Like most kindergarten teachers, Reedy has a little magic at her disposal to accomplish her goals. Students who lose their “power” (manners) must sit in a “power chair” for a few minutes until they get it back. She gets the wiggles out with a special button.
The most satisfying aspect of her job? The “aha” moment.
“I think seeing the light bulb go off — and their bright eyes twinkle — is what I enjoy the most,” she said, “knowing I made a difference.”
The biggest challenge? Meeting all their needs.
“Every child learns differently,” she said, “but every child can learn.”
Reedy is reluctant to say goodbye, but she wants to help an aging mother and a brother who has leukemia.
“I’ve cried a bucket of tears over this decision, but after spring break, my mind was made up,” she said with emotion.
“Then the kids rounded the corner and said, ‘Mrs. Reedy!’ and I knew I wouldn’t be hearing that next year. I will miss their sweetness, their innocence.”
Reedy still plans to be involved, substituting and mentoring students.
“My education journey is not over,” she said.
Reedy’s fellow teacher, Marilyn Bratcher, wrote her a poem in 2002 entitled Mrs. Reedy’s Class, which she treasures.
“These fears of yours are very real, but soon they all will pass,” the second stanza encourages a new kindergarten student. “You’ll find that school is a wonderful place because you’re in Mrs. Reedy’s Class.”