MEADOWVIEW, Va. — Mary Lampkins never dreamed she’d end her teaching career this way.
Like a mother hen, the retiring elementary teacher gathered her first grade students during dismissal on the afternoon of March 13, never realizing she wouldn’t see them again this school year.
Because of COVID-19, Washington County Public Schools had followed suit with other local school districts and closed their doors temporarily to help lessen the spread of the virus.
With only nine weeks left in her 32-year career as a teacher, the Meadowview Elementary teacher was devastated to later learn that schools would not reopen this school year.
It was like she was being robbed of finishing her school year — and her career — with her class of 16 students, she said.
“I sobbed and cried for hours and hours at home,” said Lampkins.
“I always get teary-eyed on the last day of school, but this was going to be different because I knew I wouldn’t be back to teach.
“I felt like a mother who was being told that she had to leave her kids. I was being yanked out of their lives. It was very hard on me.
“I need closure from this school year — from more than three decades of teaching — and I can’t have that now,” she said.
Showing true strength and dedication to her profession, Lampkins went the extra mile to make sure her homebound students had the supplies they needed to continue their education away from the classroom.
When a few parents were not available to pick up their children’s belongings and work after the school closed, Lampkins took it upon herself to deliver the supplies to their homes.
“I knocked on the doors, left the boxes on the porches and stood in the yards,” she said.
“Some of the kids tried to hug me, but I had to stop them and explain this is why we’re not in school now.”
Although the school buildings closed due to the coronavirus, the work for teachers didn’t end there. Like other teachers throughout the county, Lampkins has prepared daily lessons for her young students, making video presentations to support the online curriculum.
She is thankful all of her students have access to either home computers or their parents’ cellphones to view the work.
She has weekly Zoom meetings for those students who can participate to discuss the school work and to catch up on their lives.
“I thought it would be nice not only for me to see their little faces but for the students to have a chance to see and talk to each other.”
Lampkins also mailed medals and certificates of achievements to her students since an awards day was not held at the school.
She may have left the classroom, but her thoughts will always migrate to teaching.
The retiring teacher hopes to serve the school as a tutor next school year.
“I’ve already asked the principal if I can see my students when they return to school in the fall.”
Her family and friends can attest to her devotion to teaching.
“In the time I’ve worked with Mary Lampkins, I’ve seen how her dedication and authentic love for her students has changed their lives for the better,” said Tammy Williams, principal of Meadowview Elementary School.
“Ms. Lampkins’ classroom is like a well-oiled machine. She is that teacher that so many students need. If they live in chaos, her class is their safe space, their consistency, their home. She has high expectations for every student, but she takes on the responsibility of that expectation and does whatever it takes to make sure that it is met.”
Mary Price, administrative assistant at the school, said, “Mary Lampkins is one of those teachers who truly loves teaching and works hard to give her students a solid foundation to build their education on. She was born to be a teacher.”
When Lampkins was as young as 5 years old, she made it well known that she wanted to be a teacher when she grew up.
“My older siblings and parents indulged me, allowing me to be their ‘teachers.’ When I wasn’t teaching my dolls and stuffed animals, I was teaching them. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do,” said Lampkins.
“It’s always been a priority of mine to teach children the importance of achieving their goals. It took me a long time and a lot of preparation, but I achieved my goal,” she said.
After graduating from Emory & Henry College in 1988, Lampkins taught at E.B. Stanley when it operated as an elementary school, Abingdon Elementary, and in 2001 she transferred to Meadowview Elementary.
“I wanted to move to Meadowview Elementary because I went there as a child. Now, as I retire from Meadowview, it’s nice that my career in education is ending where it all began.”
She’s seen many changes in the education system since she began teaching, a few of which stand out.
“More achievements are expected of elementary students these days than when I began teaching. First grade curriculum is surely more advanced than when I went to school,” she said with a laugh.
“Also, there is less flexibility for teaching creatively in a classroom of students. There are more standards and requirements now than ever before.
“Students have changed, too,” she said.
“Many students come to school hungry, some are on different medications, and some must learn while managing trauma in their lives,” Lampkins said. “All of these things can challenge the best of teachers.
“As I retire, my one hope is that I’ve made a difference in the lives of the hundreds of children I’ve taught. I’ve been fortunate to stay in contact with some of my former students over the years. I’m so proud of the adults they’ve become.
“It’s truly been a privilege to be entrusted with the education and well-being of children and to be such an important part of their lives.”
Throughout her career, she has collected a treasure of mementos — notes from students, classroom photos — all of which she will combine into a scrapbook one day.
“It may not be the way I wanted to end my teaching career, but I do have these memories.
“And wonderful memories they are.”