Samford Publications  

Alabama Teacher of the Year, Betsy Rogers, Continues Grandmother’s Samford Legacy

by Sean Flynt

Hazel Newman was barely out of high school when she began teaching in rural Alabama early in the last century. She taught for a year before attending Howard College, where in 1916 she helped found Theta Xi, the college’s first sorority. Her sisters, Frances and Jane, followed her to Howard and into teaching, but all three were excluded from the profession when they married.

They were welcomed as Sunday School teachers, though, and dedicated themselves to that work. Hazel’s daughter, Eleanor, also attended Howard College and joined her mother and aunts teaching in Sunday School. Eleanor’s daughter, Betsy, watched and learned as the women followed their calling. She also followed them to what had become Samford University.

“The students are my reward and joy,” says Betsy Rogers ’74.

Betsy Rogers ’74, a first-grade teacher at Leeds Elementary, was named Alabama’s 2002–03 Teacher of the Year by the State Department of Education in May. She still draws inspiration from the long line of teachers in her family.

“Their commitment to provide quality and inspiring lessons in a caring and inviting environment for the many young children they taught in Sunday School greatly influenced the standards I have set for myself as a teacher,” she said.

Rogers can’t recall a time when she didn’t want to be a teacher. She prepared for her calling initially by earning the B.S. in education degree at Samford. Since then, she’s added the M.S. in education, education specialist and most recently, this past spring, the doctor of education degree. Her four degrees from Samford may be a record.

In addition to the educators in her family, she found role models in her first-, second- and third-grade teachers. “I adored these three very competent women,” said Rogers, “and I named each new doll I got every Christmas after them.” She still has the dolls and hopes to someday share with grandchildren the stories of the women who inspired her childhood play and professional passion.

“The hours I spent as a child imitating my teachers are some of my happiest memories,” said Rogers, though it’s clear that she derives at least as much satisfaction from the real thing.

An eight-year hiatus from the classroom while raising two sons and teaching in a private kindergarten left her unprepared for the changed social landscape of the public school when she took on a first-grade class at Leeds Elementary School in the mid-1980s. “The poverty, neglect and abuse that many of my students experienced every day overwhelmed me,” said Rogers. “I wanted to change the world for them.”

Several years of frustration convinced Rogers that, although she couldn’t change the world her students inhabited, she could at least provide shelter from it. “I became committed to making my classroom a haven of safety as well as an environment that provided some joy to their unfortunate lives,” she said. Now, her class is informally called “The Nurturing Class,” not only for the stability and concern Rogers offers students, but for the relationships she builds with students’ families.

Betsy Rogers’ grandmother, Hazel Newman Strickland (third from left), became a teacher at 16 and helped found Samford’s first sorority, Theta Xi, in 1916.

Rogers said her concern for the greater community is as much a part of her family tradition as teaching. “I watched my parents and grandparents serve their church and community by teaching, visiting the sick, gathering clothes and food for the needy, celebrating births, and grieving losses,” she said. “I was taught that we are here on this earth to serve.”

Drawing on that tradition and an eye-opening experience as a volunteer with the Sowing the Seeds of Hope project in rural Perry County, Rogers plans to discuss issues of equitable education funding as she travels and speaks throughout the state.

Rogers said she also wants to serve as an ambassador for Samford and the Orlean Bullard Beeson School of Education and Professional Studies, to which she gives much credit for her Teacher of the Year honor. “I cannot tell you how impressed I am with the current condition of the program,” she said.

In addition to her Teacher of the Year responsibilities, Rogers served as an ambassador for the People to People Program in Australia and New Zealand this summer. Spanish language study, photography, writing children’s books, working with student teachers and part-time college teaching are also on her daunting to-do list.

But no matter what else she has planned, and no matter where the Teacher of the Year award takes her, it’s clear she will always return to the elementary school classroom. “The students are my reward and joy,” she said. “I never imagined I would be recognized for something I love doing every day.”

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Maintained by University Relations. Last updated: December 11, 2002

Summer 2002
Vol. 19, No. 2

Seasons Staff

William Nunnelley
Mary Wimberley
Associate Editor
Sean Flynt
Contributing Writer
Janica York
Publications Manager
Scott Camp
Graphic Designer
Donna Fitch
Web Designer & Editor
Caroline Baird Summers

Samford University Alumni Association Officers 2002-03

Bennie Bumpers '63
Sonya Bumpers '63

Tom Armstrong '73
Vice President

Brooke Dill Stewart '95

Seasons is published quarterly by Samford University, 800 Lakeshore Drive, Birmingham, Alabama 35229, and is distributed free to all alumni of the University, as well as to other friends. Samford University is an Equal Opportunity Institution and welcomes applications for employment and educational programs from all individuals regardless of race, color, age, sex, disability or national or ethnic origin.