Raven Guyton took a deep breath and sort of smile-grimaced when asked why she became a teacher.
“It’s because I taught my nephew how to blow his nose,” she said.
She laughed, shook her head.
“It was really cute,” she said, feigning mild defensiveness. “And I was intrinsically happy. It was sweet to see him be proud of himself.”
Now, 13 years after setting foot inside Rankin Elementary School in Tupelo for the first time, the fourth grade math teacher still gets that feeling every time she helps a student grasp a unfamiliar concept. At the end of every day, Guyton knows the work she does has meaning.
Every student, she said, needs a teacher who cares about them.
“I needed a teacher like that,” Guyton said. “Every year, I just need to be the teacher that I needed when I was this age.”
That age, typically between 9 and 10 years old, is a big part of what keeps Guyton in the field. They’re still children, but they’re children who are coming into their own as individuals.
“This age group is so fun,” she said. “They love a ‘dad joke,’ and they’re starting to find themselves. But they also still want hugs at the end of the day. It’s just the best group.”
They keep her motivated. And even after all these years, she still gets that same feeling of intrinsic happiness that she did when she taught her nephew to blow his nose. Guyton knows every moment of discovery, no matter how small, can have great implications.
“I still get it,” she said of the joy of teaching. “I really still do.”
What was your favorite subject growing up?
“I’ve always loved reading and just the fluidity of language. I had a few teachers along the way who appreciated my written wit, landing me on the school newspaper for a bit. Mostly, I just loved reading for pleasure. My mom would buy me an R.L. Stine “Fear Street Super Chiller” book every Friday — IF I didn’t get in trouble for talking during class that week. I also loved art, but didn’t excel at it until college because I did not excel at following directions.”
Did you have any favorite teachers? What made them special?
“Mrs. Ashby was the first teacher I can remember really admiring. She was my first grade teacher at Verona Elementary. She taught me how to read and to love to read. She was kind and patient, and I could tell she truly cared about
In middle school, I had a teacher named Mrs. Robinson. She had the most perfectly styled blonde hair with teased bangs. I feel like she truly saw me and appreciated me at a really difficult time in my life. I mean, it was middle school, so it was difficult for everyone. She reminded me how valuable I was, even when I couldn’t see it.”
How would you define your teaching style?
“Very laid back — as long as my students are attempting to reach their potential and grow. I don’t get too worked up over things these days, but the expectations are still very high. I don’t ask for perfection in their work; I just ask that they don’t give up on themselves. One of the hardest things to teach is how to be okay with that uncomfortable feeling of being “not good” at something. Learning is a messy process.”
What’s one thing you wished your parents or students knew about you?
“I wasn’t always an ideal student. I struggled socially and don’t really think I mastered math until well into college. I talked too much and spent class time drawing instead of asking questions. I’m no stranger to writing lines or after-school detention. These personal challenges are just a part of what makes me such an understanding teacher. Underneath the behavior, there’s a kid begging for help to be successful. Also, I mean it when I say I care for my students. I think of them after contracted hours; I worry when they’re sick; and I always wish I could do more.”
What are you looking forward to next year?
“I have taught math exclusively for the greater part of my teaching career, but this upcoming year, I will be teaching both reading and math. I am looking forward to the challenge of learning a new content area and doing a lot of novel studies. The state has a great list of grade level reading recommendations and I can’t wait to dive into them. I hope I can help some of my students learn to love to read this year, like Mrs. Ashby did for me.”