Why so many former students are returning to 'magic' Virginia school as teachers: 'It's home'

Talley: 'When I get my degree, I want to come back and teach here, it’s my plan'
Teachers at Matoaca Elementary School
Posted at 5:50 PM, Aug 31, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-31 19:29:50-04

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- The calling to become a schoolteacher is not an easy road to travel, especially in recent years. However, there is an elementary school in Chesterfield County where former students are returning to their classrooms as teachers.

“When I walk through the door, I know it’s going to be a great day,” third-grade teacher Jennifer Autry said.

Jennifer Autry's classroom
Jennifer Autry's classroom

Time does not stand still and for elementary students, there is often a flurry of activity, both in the halls and in the classrooms. But time does seem to have a way of repeating itself at Matoaca Elementary School.

Rebecca Talley, an assistant in a classroom in the elementary school she attended, has “lots of good memories.”

She is currently working toward her college diploma.

“When I get my degree, I want to come back and teach here, it’s my plan,” Talley said.

Poster image - 2023-08-31T163650.338.jpg

And she is not alone, said teacher Tracy Branch.

“A great number of us wanted to come back because of the experience that we had while we were here,” Branch said.

In fact, nearly a half dozen of the teachers at Matoaca attended the elementary school where they now work.

Elizabeth Rowlett
Elizabeth Rowlett

Elizabeth Rowlett, who teaches fifth grade, comes from a long line of family who attended Matoaca.

“It’s so generational,” Rowlett explained. “There’s many kids who, their grandparents went here, their grandkids went here.”

Fourth-grade teacher Ainsle Foster said she thinks a lot of her colleagues are “teaching kids that we went to school with their parents.”

Carly Williams
Carly Williams

Carly Williams thinks her younger self would “be little surprised” she is now back at the school she attended as a girl.

“But I think she’d be really proud of me and I’m a little proud of me too,” Williams said.

There is no doubt there is something special and unique about Matoaca Elementary.

“It’s a little bit of magic, I think,” Williams said.

That is something Lindsey Temple, who has been teaching for just seven days, is starting to experience.

“My fourth-grade teacher was one of my favorite teachers,” Temple recalled.

Katie Chisholm
Katie Chisholm

Just a week on the job, Temple described walking inside the school just like its veteran teachers.

“It sounds cliché, but it sounds like it’s home,” she said.

Autry, Branch and Ainsle agreed.

“It felt kind of comfortable because it’s home to me,” Foster said.

Teachers at Matoaca Elementary School
Teachers at Matoaca Elementary School

For Brandy Burdine, whose two children attend the school, she knew she was where she was supposed to be two weeks before school began when she ran into her pre-K teacher.

“It felt good. She knew me by name, first and last name,” Burden, an instructional assistant, said. “To have her remember me... She made a big difference in my life — and made me think, 'Maybe, I can have that kind of effect.' That 30 years from now maybe some little girl will be like, 'I remember when I had her.'"

Katie Chisholm feels the same.

“Being able to come through Matoaca and have such an amazing experience in elementary school and now I get to provide kids with these experiences as well, and I absolutely love that,” Chisholm said.

Teachers at Matoaca Elementary School
Teachers at Matoaca Elementary School

While it is not on the SOL, every teacher at Matoaca Elementary has a very special goal for their students.

“This school means a lot to me and so we’re going to do our very, very best, so that it will mean a lot to you too,” Williams said.

It only takes a few minutes inside Matoaca Elementary to realize there really is a kind of magic inside the building.

And there is no doubt that some of the current students will one day return as teachers to keep that magic alive.

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