COVINGTON, Ga. — Susan Ballard says she will not miss the long hours of paperwork and the increasingly rigid controls placed on her teaching methods during the 30 years she taught in Newton County Schools.
But she will miss the new 5- and 6-year-olds she got to meet every year at two different schools since she began fresh out of Georgia Southern University in 1991.
“I’m going to miss those connections with those children,” she said, her voice breaking.
Ballard spent her last day as a full-time Newton County Schools kindergarten teacher June 4 at Newton County Theme School.
The native Newton Countian spent her entire work career as a teacher in the school system after almost all of her years as a student in NCSS.
Ballard grew up in Oxford with her five siblings as the daughter of the late attorney and state legislator Don Ballard, who represented Newton County in the Georgia General Assembly for a quarter of a century.
Susan attended Palmer-Stone Elementary and Cousins and Newton high schools before earning her teaching degree from Georgia Southern.
“I always knew I wanted to be a teacher,” she said.
After returning home, she got her “foot in the door” with NCSS by working as a substitute teacher. The school system eventually hired her to teach autistic children at what was then the “alternative school,” she said.
However, she recalled her “passion” was not in the area of special education.
“I always dreamed of being a kindergarten teacher,” she said.
She spent about five years teaching second and third grades and early intervention students being hired at Palmer-Stone as a kindergarten teacher, Ballard said.
Then, after about a decade, former school board member C.C. Bates asked her to consider moving to teach at the then-new Newton County Theme School in 2009.
In 2003, she also was forced to adjust to being a working, single mother raising two children after her divorce.
Neither of her children, now 21 and 27, followed their mom into the teaching profession. She quipped that “they spent so many days at school” waiting for her to her work days that they did not want to be educators.
Ballard said she has taught long enough to see one of her former third-grade students, Mary Alexander, become a colleague at the Theme School.
She also recalled the school system and county being small enough that she knew the parents or family members of at least half her students in the early 1990s.
“Now, I’m lucky to get just a few,” she said.
Ballard said the major change that affected her teaching over parts of four decades was the integration of electronic technology into the classroom.
She said kindergarten was the last grade to receive electronic white boards, which allow the teacher to write on the screen as well as import online images.
Ballard was unsure at first if it could work with her teaching methods. However, she said she eventually knew it would be an effective tool for her young students, she said.
“Now, I don’t know how I could teach without technology,” she said.
Another change since she began has been state education leaders’ emphasis on a more standardized approach requiring specific time frames for teaching parts of the curriculum to kindergarten students.
She said she formerly was able to adjust her teaching to meet each student’s individual learning speed.
“There’s not as much personal input,” Ballard said.
Now, Ballard is considering going overseas to teach English.
“People often call me a natural teacher,” Ballard said.