By Michael Alexander, Staff Photographer | Published February 8, 2017
A number of teachers at Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Atlanta are also alumni of those same schools where they once learned, studied, walked the halls and participated in extracurricular activities.
They were promoted from grade to grade until they eventually left, but years later they would return in a new and different capacity – as a teacher. This time around they are serving instead of being served. Today they stand at the head of the class disseminating knowledge, prudence and wisdom. Some are also fortunate enough to call as colleagues those very teachers who taught them, and may have inspired them to seek a profession in education.
I recently met four such teachers at Our Lady of the Assumption (OLA) School in Atlanta. Helen Herndon, a fifth-grade teacher, graduated from OLA in 2004. After finishing Atlanta’s St. Pius X High School, she attended the University of Georgia, Athens, and then transferred to Georgia College, Milledgeville, where she majored in Early Childhood Education. “I always wanted to be a teacher,” said Herndon. “I remember writing a paper in fourth grade about knowing that I would be a teacher when I grew up. I even put that I would come back and to Our Lady of the Assumption one day.”
Herndon initially taught in DeKalb County public schools, but in 2015 she fulfilled that promise and started teaching at OLA. “From my very first open house until today, I knew I had made the right decision,” said Herndon. “OLA is my home. I am very lucky to be back here and especially lucky to be working with some amazing teachers.”
Erin McBride, the school’s physical education teacher, finished OLA in 1997. She was also a St. Pius X High School graduate. McBride attended Auburn University for two years and then she transferred to Kennesaw State University, where she earned a degree in Middle Grades Education, with a concentration in math and social studies. Teaching was also her career goal. “I knew I wanted to be a math teacher and cheer coach when I was a junior in high school,” said McBride. “I loved math and helping my peers with it. I was a cheerleader for 9 years and I wanted to eventually coach cheerleading.” McBride started teaching at OLA in 2010.
Herndon and McBride both found their former teacher, Mary Baxter, to be an inspiration to them. Baxter is in her 37th year as an OLA teacher. She was a fifth grade teacher when she taught Herndon and McBride. “Mrs. Baxter is one of the most innovative, hardworking, passionate teachers I have ever come across,” said Herndon. “She is always striving to gain knowledge about new ways to teach and is always willing to help others learn as well. Mrs. Baxter has a way about her that makes learning fun in her classroom whether it’s geography or reading.”
McBride remembers Baxter as a phenomenal teacher who was passionate about what she was teaching, especially social studies. “To this day she has a way with storytelling,” said McBride. “The way she tells and reads a story is captivating.” Baxter was also someone she looked up to in the church. “I watched her all through grade school giving communion at Masses, which she still does today, and I wanted to one day get involved in the church like she was,” said McBride. Baxter was obviously an influence because for the past three years McBride has served in the role of eucharistic minister in her home parish, Church of St. Ann, Marietta, and at OLA school Masses.
Tori Lewis, a middle school language arts teacher, left OLA after the sixth grade. From there she went up the road to Marist School, where she graduated in 2011. Four years later she graduated with a degree in Secondary English Education from the University of Mississippi. Lewis’ desire to be a teacher goes back to her fifth grade at OLA. “My mom is a teacher, so it is definitely in my blood,” said Lewis.
Lewis began teaching at OLA in 2015. Occasionally there are flashbacks or moments of déjà vu as a student and for Lewis it happened on her first day as a teacher. She said students leave the gym at the same time in the morning and make their way like a stampede up to their homeroom classes. “That first day I heard all the heavy clomping of eager students going to their new homerooms for the year brought back all the memories of walking back up to school each day,” said Lewis.
Lauren Marriott, a kindergarten teacher, graduated from OLA in 2001. Marriott is another St. Pius X grad who attended Clemson University and earned a degree in Early Childhood Education. “When I was younger, I always knew I wanted to be in a helping profession,” said Marriott. “After my great experience at OLA and St. Pius X, I decided I wanted to become a teacher during my freshman year at Clemson.” Her first job out of college was teaching pre-kindergarten at Christ Church Episcopal Preschool, Greenville, S.C., but she began teaching at OLA in August of 2015.
Marriott says she has enjoyed coming back to teach at the same school she grew up in. “It is so neat working with some of the same teachers and staff that once taught me,” said Marriott. Like Lewis, Marriott’s work environment is such that they can’t help but fondly recall those moments as students back in the day. The two teachers had a common recollection of when teams of students in science class would spend weeks building soap box cars, and the culmination was a soap box derby race around the blacktop, which is now the parking lot and greenspace. “I love being able to walk in the same hallways I once walked as a student at OLA and tell my students about it,” said Marriott.
Kelly Senay, a middle school math teacher at OLA for 22 years, provided a source of inspiration to Lewis and Marriott. Lewis said Senay is a quiet, compassionate teacher that always has her student’s best interest at heart. “To this day she is amazing to watch in the classroom because she has a wonderful ability to meet every student’s need every day in class,” said Lewis. “Mrs. Senay was my fourth grade math teacher and she tutored me on the side,” said Marriott. “I was terrible at math, but she made it fun for me.” Marriott said after that she always told herself that if she ever grew up to be a teacher, she would make sure that she made learning fun for her students.
These are just a few teachers who have answered the call to teach at familiar places. So if you’re a teacher with a similar story, share yours with us, along with a photo of yourself, or a photo of you with that teacher or teachers who you looked up to as a student in the past and value as a mentor today. Send it, along with your contact information, to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. We’ll put it on our blog.
In the meantime, check out two other alumnae in Nichole Golden’s story , “School community welcomes Holy Redeemer alumna back as teacher” and Andrew Nelson’s story, “St. Thomas More 1959 alumna still keeps watchful eyes on its children.” Both can be found in the Feb. 9 issue of The Georgia Bulletin.