Katharine DeRosa, Contributing Writer
During her 47 years as a teacher, Jane Smith never entered the classroom without her earrings and high heels. Her love of teaching began early in life, as she helped her three younger brothers learn to read and write.
“It’s a gift you are born with, and you recognize it early,” Smith said.
Smith started teaching in 1957 when she graduated college, and she says her passion for guiding others has only grown since then. After she retired in 2004, she became the oldest substitute teacher in Buckingham County, which is 40 miles south of Charlottesville.
Smith spoke highly of her teaching experiences, shared views on the recent NAACP lawsuits in Virginia and cherished many fond memories of the classroom.
Although teaching was always enjoyable for Smith, she took her job very seriously.
“A teacher needs to be a role model from the moment she walks into the classroom to the moment she gets in her car to go home,” she said.
Like most teachers, Smith’s passion reaches beyond the paycheck.
“When I was in the hospital when my femur was broken, all I was saying was, ‘I can get a walker and help a kid read. They don’t have to pay me a dime.’”
Having lived through the desegregation of schools in the 1960s, Smith has firsthand memories of the events, including comments from former U.S. Sen. Harry Byrd Sr., who served from 1933 to 1965.
“I remember Harry Byrd Sr., who said to just close the black schools and let the black students go anywhere,” Smith said. “I was a senior at Radford University, and it broke my heart to see black students walking around with nowhere to go.”
Smith’s experiences influence her view on recent NAACP lawsuits in Virginia schools; the organization has sued Lee-Davis High School and Stonewall Jackson Middle School for their Confederate names.
The NAACP lawsuit writes that “When African-American students are required to identify as ‘Confederates’ or ‘Rebels’ in order to participate in school activities, they are required to endorse the violent defense of slavery pursued by the Confederacy and the symbolism that these images have in the modern white supremacist movement.”
Smith said that although the administrators lacked the wisdom to know better when they named the schools, it doesn’t excuse a failure to change.
“It’s saying we cannot grow,” Smith said.
Despite some difficulties, teaching has carried Smith throughout her life, and will continue to be a calling for future generations.
“Everyone has a gift and sometimes it takes a while to discover what it is,” Smith said. “Once you realize what your gift is, you are able to get that achievement in life.”
Smith now resides in the Scottsville area of Buckingham County and loves her dogs, church and grandchildren.