Farewell to retiring teachers: Elizabeth Smith
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Her voice became shaky as she tried to hold back her tears.
“This is the best place in the whole world to me,” she said softly, while drying her cheeks with a tissue. After 42 years of teaching and interacting with students— 36 of those years proudly wearing maroon— German teacher, Frau Elizabeth Smith is retiring.
Even though she received her Master’s in German education from University of Kansas, she began teaching in the fall of 1976, a year after the school opened. Once German class became more popular, she began teaching German, along with other electives like cheerleading, drill team, and speech and debate. According to Smith’s daughter, Kim Hampton, who was in her class from 1990-1992, she teaches more than one level of German in a single class period.
“You have to know and love your subject area and students,” Hampton said. “You have to be a master at doing lots of things at once. Very few teachers would ever dare to attempt teaching more than one prep, but she did it so that more students would be able to take her class. She has never wanted a prospective German student to be turned away because of scheduling issues. She also takes on more extra-curricular activities than would crush a mere mortal. That is pure bravery.”
Smith always took an interest in foreign language, but unfortunately was unable to take one in high school.
“My counselor told me I was too dumb to go to college, because my math scores were so low,” Smith said. “They didn’t see any reason to why I should take a foreign language if I wasn’t going to go to college.”
Not only did she prove her counselors wrong by going to college, but because of her passion and ambition, Smith has been involved in numerous organizations and activities that earned her the Teacher of the Year award in 1990, and the National German Teacher award in 2007. She was vice president of the German Teachers’ Association for two years, president for the following two years, and is one of six German College Board Consultants in the country. She has led countless seminars and workshops, such as the North Texas German Regional Competition, German Sportsfest and the annual state competitions for teachers all around the world. In addition to all of her successes, she has written a German textbook and plans to write another one with two other colleagues during her retirement.
“She is just a great woman, not even just as a teacher, but as a person in general,” junior Mckay Paxman said. “She is always super busy, and she does whatever it takes so that we can have our opportunities to do things.”
Smith said she has loved everything she has been involved in, but it is teaching German that will always be dearest to her heart and be her passion.
“I am going to miss the kids the most,” Smith said. “They keep me young, and they have impacted me greatly.”
According to her former student from 1986, Erica Erdmann, Smith always makes a huge impact on her students.
“If I was ever in trouble or needed someone to talk to, she was there,” Erdman said. “She encouraged me to pursue my dreams, and that was inspirational. She adopted us for two years, and molded us to be balanced people. I would not be who I am today if it wasn’t for Frau.”
Some memories with Smith include receiving candy on the first day of school, celebrating German holidays and going to competitions. Paxman holds one memory in particular close to her heart.
“I was captain of the folk dancing team,” Paxman said. “When we got on the bus after the award ceremony, she was calling attendance to make sure everybody was there. She called ‘Mckay Paxman’ three times, and I answered ‘here’. She said it one more time, ‘Mckay Paxman, our folk dancing captain who got us first,’ and I said ‘here.’ I was at the very back of the bus, and I ran to the very front and hugged her. We were both crying. That is one of the things I will always remember about Frau.”
Both Paxman and West hang out in Smith’s room after school if they have nothing to do and just talk. They both look up to her as an individual, as well as a teacher.
“She is someone I respect and because I respect her, I listen to her,” junior Shelby West said. “I want to make her proud and happy by doing my work. I look up to her, because she works really hard. If you work that hard, you would snap at people and be mean, and she is still always very nice.”
According to the students, Smith has a unique and fun way of teaching.
“We go over the five verbs every week, and she will sing it and dance up and down the classroom,” Paxman said. “When it comes time to take the quiz on Friday, you know the verb because you start singing it in your head. A lot of the things that she does are very quirky and they just help us remember things. She definitely makes class fun.”
To this day, Smith keeps in touch with the majority of her students. She said that she has been invited to a few weddings, and she is always happy to hear about her students’ successes.
“She is just a loving person, and you just don’t want to see her upset,” Paxman said. “If you don’t do your homework, you’re like ‘oh my gosh’, I don’t want Frau to be disappointed in me. She is really loving, and you can go to her with anything. She is just like a mom. She is just that teacher that I am going to always remember after I graduate.”