06/10/09 — It's her last day, too, after 50-plus years

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It's her last day, too, after 50-plus years

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on June 10, 2009 1:46 PM

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Mary Ann Futrell, center, a part-time tutor at Grantham School, has a 50-year career in education, 48 of those in Wayne County Public Schools. Working on a reading lesson is fifth-grader Karla Ambriz.

During her 50 years in education, Mary Ann Futrell has retired five times. But her love for children kept drawing her back to the classroom.

Even now, the 71-year-old teacher plans to retire at the end of this school year, but she won't completely shut the door on a possible return in the fall.

"I'm not going to say for sure. I think this is it, but I won't say. I might be back subbing or doing some tutoring. But I don't think I will be back full-time," she said.

She has spent 48 of those 50 years in the Wayne County school system.

This past year, her role was that of part-time tutor at Grantham School, where she also volunteered as a test proctor. In the past she has taught at Brogden middle, Rosewood, Carver, Carver Heights and School Street elementary schools.

She initially retired from the school system in 1995, but has returned to work as a full-time teacher, a long-term substitute and in part-time capacities. Altogether, she has logged 38 years full-time and 12 years part-time.

As she looks back over the past half-century, the memories flood back easily.

"When I first started teaching, we had a blackboard and a piece of chalk, a textbook and that was it," she said. "Children were in straight rows, they sat down and you taught by the book. Throughout the years it's a lot different -- you have them in groups now and you're up, moving around with a lot of hands-on materials that you don't have. It's stressful, but there was stress then.

"When I first came to Wayne County, there was, I think, one superintendent. I don't think there were assistants. And when I was at Brogden, there was one principal, one secretary in the office and that was it -- no P.E. teachers, no art, any of the extra specials that they have today. It was just unreal. Our teachers now, they just couldn't imagine."

Teachers back in the day were responsible for their students from the time they arrived until the time they went home, Mrs. Futrell said.

"You did the music, the art, the P.E., you took them to lunch," she said.

There were other marked differences, she said.

"Back in the time I was teaching, you had like anywhere from 38 to 40 children in those first few years. Then we got down to 30, now they're in the 20s and of course they say they're going to add two," she said. "Also, when I taught my first year, my salary was $320 a month. I believe that a beginning teacher this day and time is making in a month what I made in a year."

Likewise, there were no health benefits and no teacher workdays. But what there was plenty of were precious opportunities to shape young minds.

"I have done it because of the love of the children. I just love to be with children. It's just a real thrill to work with them. I guess it's just my calling because I'm most happy when I'm here," she said.

The rewards have taken on many forms, the 71-year-old graduate of East Carolina University said.

"When you see a child who's having difficulty and you work with him and all of a sudden you see that in his eyes, he's comprehended what he's doing. ... It's been a good highlight to meet the people out in the community that I have taught and they'll come up and tell you what they're doing and appreciate your help when they were younger.

"I am amazed when I walk into Wal-Mart or K-Mart and someone will come up who remembers me. I will look at them and in a moment, I will look at them and I will remember them."

Although she and husband Max, a retired farmer, only had one child of their own -- Max Jr. -- Mrs. Futrell has been a mother to many.

"I have good relationships with these students. They are precious, every one of them," she said. "I have never seen a child in my life that I didn't love. I see a few that had some challenging behaviors, but I still loved them and gave them everything I could."

In her half-century in teaching, Mrs. Futrell has seen many changes in education. But there are some things that have withstood the test of time.

"Children are children, teachers love the children and they work with them," she said. "They are learning now, but they were learning then. ... Probably, I might say, the real thing then and now, the most important thing to me for a child is to get a good education, for him to have a desire to learn, to have the parents who support him in his efforts, to have caring and quality teachers. I think that was true 50 years ago just like it is today. If you have those three things, I don't really think it's going to matter if you do it in groups, in rows, hands-on or what."

As another school year comes to an end, Mrs. Futrell, like many of her counterparts, looks forward to the down time that summer brings. She likes to read and work in her flower garden. But that doesn't mean she will ever completely retire from a job that is as much a part of her as breathing.

"Every year when I say, 'This is my last year,' (but) when the yellow school buses come by in the fall, then I have to get back. I'm just ready when the bus comes by. I guess that's why I have made it all these years."