New Center teacher Annette Payne retires

May. 15, 2013 @ 11:51 PM

After 38 years of teaching at New Center School, first grade teacher Annette Payne will retire at the end of the school year.

"I've seen children come and go, and children of children come and go. Everybody has a connection here," Payne said.

Remaining at the same school throughout her career has enabled Payne to observe a myriad of changes over time. "There were eight teachers at New Center when I started," she recalls. "Now we have six just in first grade."

"I've seen the school and the area explode. It's been interesting to see how we've handled the changes throughout the years," she added.

The decision to teach was not an immediate one for Payne, though she always knew she wanted to work with children. "At first, my parents insisted on college, but I wasn't sure what I wanted to do," she said. "After two years, I was forced to declare a major. I chose elementary education, and once I did, I became very interested in the courses."

Payne received her undergraduate degree in elementary education from the University of Tennessee. Ten years later, she followed up with a master's degree in reading, which she considers her true passion. "I have a love for reading that will never go," she said. "I've really felt like I've been on the battle lines teaching reading over the years. If you can read, you can do anything."

Her favorite stories to teach are "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs," as well as classics such as "Charlotte's Web," "Goodnight, Moon," and "Where the Wild Things Are."

She said some of the most humorous memories she has are of students mispronouncing words as they learn to read. "Trying to keep a straight face doesn't always work," she said.  "Laughing along with them about things going on in the classroom has been one of the joys I've had over the years."

Payne's frequent smiles and laughter are one of the things she believes students will remember. "I love hugs. I never stopped giving hugs, and I never will," she said. "Students need that now and then."

"I used to even pull teeth, until they told me not to," she said. "I've always tried to be like a mother to my students. I feel like they are my children. I always worry about them and pray for them."

Several post-retirement irons are already in the fire for Payne, not the least of which is playing an active role as a grandmother. "My daughter has a baby due at the end of October, so I will be busy helping her," she said.

An avid hiker and gardener, she also plans to spend time pursuing those interests. "I'm looking forward to having time to relax in the swing by my garden," she said.

A retirement picnic honoring Payne will be held on May 18 at the Sevierville City park from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m, and she hopes to see as many of her former students as possible. "I'd like to see every student I've ever had, but I know that's not realistic," she said. "If I can just see one of my former students that I haven't seen recently, it'll be worth all the effort it took to plan." n

jfrye@themountainpress.com