Gill retires following more than three decades of impacting students’ lives
Long-term educator Deborah Gill retired this year from her multi-decade teaching career.
Gill taught in the Oklahoma public school system for 27 years and at the collegiate level with Tulsa Community College for 12 years with several of those years overlapping.
Quite a few of those years were spent teaching at Jenks High School, where she completed her final year last Friday.
The Jenks Tribune has the chance to talk with Gill in a Question and Answer session about her career and how teaching has impacted her life and so many others she has taught.
Jenks Tribune: How many years have you taught and where and what all did you teach?
Deborah Gill: I began teaching at Chelsea High School where I taught 11th and 12 grade English and newspaper. I was just four years older than my students and when I decided to start my graduate work at OSU (Oklahoma State University) that summer, some of my students were on the campus as well. Two students even asked me to be in their wedding.
While I was working on my Masters in Curriculum and Instruction and commuting to Stillwater, I met a group of teachers from Sapulpa who encouraged me to interview there. That’s how I began teaching ninth-grade English and newspaper at what was then Sapulpa Junior High. Doing the newspaper was interesting then. . .I truthfully went to the press in the basement of the administration building and set type. I would come home with ink all over me. I left SJH a couple of weeks prior to the birth of my first child and stayed home with our three children while they were little.
I returned to teaching as an adjunct professor at TCC (Tulsa Community College) when my youngest was in school full day and began teaching freshman composition I and II (mostly II). TCC continued to be my part-time position until we were about to have two children in college at the same time and full-time employment looked like a good idea.
I returned to Sapulpa, this time at the High School, where I taught American Literature and AP English Literature and while continuing teaching night courses at TCC. When Jenks High School offered me a position, I made the move to teach English 12 and AP English Literature. It was a natural transition. My own three children had attended Jenks, and I had modeled my AP Lit curriculum after what I had known from their teachers at JHS.
As you can tell, my teaching career is not as smooth as some, but it’s been good. I believe according to the State of Oklahoma, I have taught 27 years public schools and 12 years at TCC (some of that overlapping).
JT: What made you want to be a teacher and when did you first know you wanted to teach?
DG: When I was a teenager and babysat children, we would “play school.” That should have been my first hint that it would be my vocation. However, teaching was not my first job out of college; I was a copywriter for an advertising agency on the public relations side. I had accepted that job early my senior year in college, but an interesting thing had happened in the meantime that made my tenure in the business world short: my mother (who had worked as an admin assistant in the schools) had asked me to get my teaching certificate while earning my Bachelor of Arts in English. This meant my last semester of college would include student teaching. That’s where and when I began to suspect I would be a teacher. I loved it. The kids were fun, the material interesting, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. When I went to a 9-5 job in an office, it paled in comparison. I looked for and found the teaching position in Chelsea and left my very brief stint in the corporate world.
JT: Talk about how teaching has changed throughout your career.
DG: Programs seem to come and go; many times, the ideas are something heard before, but they get renamed (and revised). So, the exterior of teaching can look different. But the heart of teaching – loving kids, helping them become the best they can be, believing in the material and how it can improve them – that hasn’t changed.
One example of a change would be with teaching research. When I first started teaching research, it was all about card catalogs, etc. Now the well of information is deeper, a positive and a negative. Much more information availability, but much less reliability. Before, I was primarily concerned with teaching students they should back their opinion with sources. While that obviously is still a concern, now I concentrate on checking the source’s reliability.
JT: Talk about how teaching has remained the same throughout your career.
DG: Let’s see if I can explain this well. Say I had a visual representation of the student when I first began teaching; the concentration, I believe, would be on the development of the mind, with little attention paid to the rest – that simply wasn’t a concern of most educators. However, my own senior English teacher was very innovative; she individualized her curriculum to fit the student’s future plans. At the time I remember being very impressed. Those of us going to college did this. . .those who weren’t, did that. All with the idea of preparing for our future. She was the unusual teacher then; today, her approach is more the expectation. A visual representation today would be more concerned about the entire body of the student – if he’s hungry, we try to do something about it, if he’s having a difficult time, we try to do something about it. I think today we recognize the student has more needs than the purely academic that we formerly concentrated on.
JT: What has teaching taught you?
DG: How fun it is to learn and that there is always something to learn.
JT: If you could pick one thing that makes teaching special, what would it be?
DG: The opportunity to be with young people. That is what I am going to miss.
JT: Many teachers become principals or administrators in education, what made you want to stay teaching?
DG: The learning is what is fun and learning with the students is the best. I get that in the classroom regularly and I love talking literature. I admit it.
JT: How have you grown as a teacher from your first day to your final day?
DG: Well, when I took my first AP Lit position, I realized I was not as well read as I should be. So, I started and developed a love of the classics – I like how reading them tickled my brain and made me think. Later, technology took a big front seat in the classroom and I am still learning more in this area – recognizing how this can serve the classroom without letting it overwhelm me.
JT: How has your family been supportive throughout your career?
DG: When I have an idea of introducing a new work or method, I will sometimes run it by them and see what they think. They are good to give me feedback.
JT: What advice would you give a young teacher or someone who is studying to be a teacher?DG: Learn where your students are, meet them there and help them get where you want them; get to know your students – it’s a great opportunity to meet some really wonderful people and it also helps in establishing what the class needs to know. Each year is different – what worked last year may not with this year’s group, so realize there is usually more than one way to get to the goal. Don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know something – the students will appreciate your honesty and together you can figure out a way to learn it. It is hard work, there’s no denying it – but it is so, so worthwhile.