WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Teachers are facing enormous transitions again this fall. A teacher who has been in the School District of Palm Beach County for many years is sharing her advice for adjusting and guiding stories.
The average teacher’s career span in Palm Beach County is 22 years. Betty Lou McCray Wells is now in her 50th school year and has no plans to slow down.
Wells is a well-known fixture at Bear Lakes Middle School, the media center was even named after her. She truly loves being a teacher.
"You've got to have that passion, that dedication and focus," she said.
Wells has taught generations of families in her career, she said she sees her students everywhere she goes. This time during the pandemic has been different from any other.
"This has been the biggie. This has really been the biggie. I've worked with it. I didn't like it at the beginning. As I told you before, I did not like it. But I learned to adjust," she said. "And that's what I tell a lot of the teachers a lot of things you're going to be confronted with. But stop making excuses. If this is your career and this is what you love doing, then you adjust and everything will be OK."
Principal Dr. Kirk Howell said he has such admiration and respect for Wells and the work she does, he sees her as a member of his family.
"She's the most inspirational individual on this campus. Someone that I admire, someone I know that will continue to strive and understand the reason why she's on this planet," he said.
Wells said she arrives early every day and keeps a routine for herself and the students. She feels being consistent helps the children stay on track and avoids confusion.
Howell said Wells sees not just how a child shows up to the classroom; she sees what is possible within that child and helps them get there.
"She looked at their foundational skills, because one of the issues that we're having is that a lot of foundational skills are not taught at early age," he said. "She understands that most folks don't. She focused on how to better kids, she look at the solutions instead of the problem."
Wells advises other teachers to commit to the profession, and push for the students.
"To be a teacher, you've got to have not only just the educational knowledge, you've got to have that passion, that dedication, and focus that you just got to have a some of what was in you, you got to give to them," Wells said. "And I know we run out. We run up on these students that appear to be non-disciplined. But there's a reason, sometimes we never know, there's a reason that we have, we've pitched enough, we find out something is wrong. So it's up to us sometime to dig, some teachers dig, I'm down. I'm a digger. That's why I go I like to meet parents."
Wells uses modern teaching books and tests, but still refers to exercises and practice sheets in books from the 1980s, because she believes they were some of the most helpful. When it came to transitioning to a SmartBoard and internet connections to work with her students, she spent two weeks learning the technology, and pushed through.
When students wouldn't show up from time to time, or she couldn’t see a child’s face on camera, she would take things further.
"I'll go and knock on your door," she said.
She said it sometimes surprised the family, but it paid off.
"Now we children cannot get will have problems getting on to the internet, some of them did not have internet wiped out up sometimes down even in the school center," she said. "So you can't say that the child didn't try. See, you don't know you don't live with that child. But we've had a lot of problems. I do think we're gonna still have some problems. But hopefully they'll come in."
Wells recommends other teachers also skip the excuses and pour in the passion this year as best they can manage.
Howell explained his perspective on Wells' disciplined approach.
"So it's, it's a transition for the kids initially. Because that's his style in terms of teaching, disciplines come first. And if you're not a disciplined individual, you're not going to be successful, you can't be all over the place," he said. "So she always put in structures and systems in place in our classrooms that the kids have to follow. But they're not used to that because at home there, they don't have that same structure. But by week three, week four, it's a routine, you will see the kids walking down our hallways, and they're reciting their timetables, because she understand there's only four functions in math."
Howell encourages other teachers to watch Wells.
"With our issues we have in our society, it's vital to understand that with a great education and the right education, we can move a kid economically, from the lower class to the middle class," he said.
The high standards she sets can pay off for individual children.
"For Betty Lou wells, expectation is greater than the kids' fears, and she put the kids in situation that they have to grow," Howell said.
Wells hopes for a successful year and looks forward to looking into the eyes of her students.