Alabama Teacher of the Year, Betsy Rogers, Continues Grandmother’s
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
“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
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.”