Autry credits mother, school principal with her success

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Teacher of the Year nominee

By Brenda Locklear

Editor’s note: the Times will is publishing a series of stories on the 2017-2018 Teacher of the Year nominees for 2017-2018. On June 14, Teacher of the Year Kylie Ondriezek was featured. In the weeks following, one of the seven teachers has been, or will be, featured. This week, the teacher is Pamela Autry.

“What I do is important because of the many lives I touch on a day-to-day basis. I am in the forefront of every child’s life that enters my classroom. Aside from their parents, I have an influence upon them. I model professionalism; I try my best to be my best self for these children, because what I say and do as a teacher can impact their lives,” said teacher Pamela Autry of her job as a teacher in Sumter County. Autry was one of Sumter County’s Teacher of the Year nominees for the 23-017-2018 school year.

“Our goal this year is to move the academic needle. My job depends on that needle moving in a direction to show growth. I am fortunate to be in a district that promotes professional development, they are forever seeking and providing resources that teachers can use in their classrooms for student success.

Autry teaches at Sumter P.R.E.P Academy and has been a teacher for nine years now.

She graduated from Barry University in Miami in May, 2008.

She credits her late mothers, Mary L. Walker with where she is in life today.

“Her wisdom, intellect, professionalism and guidance are the source of my success, particularly as a teacher. Watching my mom, I discovered that impactful teaching requires timing, content and care in a way to facilitate learning. My mom was a leader and I feel she led me in the right direction.  It was her idea for me to become a teacher after serving in the Armed forces,” Autry said.

Along with her mother, Autry credits James C. Presley with having a major influence on her life - something that began back in 2015.

And, she said he,  “still influences me to embark upon new adventures! Before I go into details on how he influences me, let me explain how I became one of his teachers.”

Autry said she chose to resign from the Sumter County School District for health reasons.

“When I was well enough to return to work I was given an opportunity to work part time for the Adult Education Center in Sumterville, by Christine Burk.

“This landed me a position to teach for the Sumter County Detention Center under Capt. Zeke Shaw and Capt. Julian Day. They have made it possible for our incarcerated men and women to achieve their high school diploma, so they too can give back to society. They have a wonderful team of women and men working at this facility which make you feel secure and safe.

“Mr. Presley has really given me the best opportunity a teacher could ask for, (having my old job back)! I felt like this was my second chance at life. I really didn’t want to work in another county,” so when she was given the opportunity to interview for her former job, “I did so without hesitation. My current principal, James C. Presley, called and said ‘the job is yours if you want it,’  I was on the verge of leaving the teaching profession permanently, had it not been for his influence to rejoin the family of Sumter P.R.E.P Academy.

“He strives for excellence, perseverance and professionalism. This was a motto we had to live by when I served on active duty. Mr. Presley didn’t know during that time it was a blessing in disguise for me. He continuously formulates new ideas to make our school the best kept secret in Sumter County.

“We will, under his guidance and leadership, become the School of Choice! I say this with a smile on my face because I know how realistic this is. We see and support our vision. We are led by a man who knows which direction to take our school and when to take it to the next level. I take great pleasure and pride in working at Sumter P.R.E.P Academy because of our scholars and the family atmosphere we have established,” she said.

Among her most memorable moments in the classroom, they occurred her first year in the classroom, she said.

“I got the opportunity to be challenged and mentored in a way that facilitated my growth, development and success as a teacher. I started my teaching career as one simply educated as a teacher, and developed into a teacher who impacts the success of students.” 

She also believes her experience serving in the United States Coast Guard - the travel and the opportunity to experience different cultures, is what has shaped how she conducts herself today.

Autry also shared another memorable time during her career.

It “involves me burning bacon during a teacher-sponsored breakfast for the students, who were scheduled to take a state exam. Rodney Rocker, our principal at that time, let me in his kitchen.

“Baking, in lieu of frying the bacon, allowed me to multi-task. Unfortunately though, while on another task, I forgot about the bacon long enough for it to burn. I looked up at ‘The Rock” (Mr. Rocker) and he had already guessed what happened.  He saved the day, and said ‘lets serve what we got Mrs. Johnson,’  while  roaring with laughter and I began laughing as well.”

That was, until he told her she would be cleaning his oven, as soon as the students were gone.

“He was still laughing and the kids got a big kick out of it too! I haven’t burnt bacon since that incident.”

Why do you think what you do is important? 

As for what she hopes it is to show “...our scholars the importance of being educated, teaching them to give back to society and their community. I want to educate children to be aware of the unknown and teach them the importance of preparation.”

Autry said her philosophy,”... is and will always be that any child can be taught, but learning is their key to success. 

“I believe if  I take  a little extra time to teach a child who may be struggling with the content,  he/she can achieve academic success.

“Another philosophy of mine is teach one, reach one. If I can reach a child and get to him or her before they give up, I feel as though I have given that child hope to stay motivated to learn. It doesn’t matter how long it takes them to learn the concept, what’s important to me is that they learn it!”

Autry is married to Guy Johnson “ ... and combined, we have four children. We reside in Ocala.

She said of her years in the classroom, what has surprised her most is, “How well children can adapt.”

And what might surprise others about Autry?

“They may not know that I was the first African American female to achieve the rank of E-8 as an Electrician Mate in the U.S Coast Guard.”