El Dorado teacher begins retirement

Chad Frey
Butler County Times Gazette

Debbie Smith, a second-grade teacher at Grandview Elementary School in El Dorado, is about to retire. 

That, however, has not affected how she has approached this school year. 

"She’s in her final year of teaching but she brings the excitement of learning to her students that you expect from a first year teacher," said Kristi Knapp, a parent of one of Smith's students. "Her personality shines above all else. Always going the extra mile no matter the theme." 

Debbie Smith spends time reading a popular novel series with student Ben Todd. Smith will retire after 31 years in the classroom at the end of this school year.

Smith sees great responsibility with teaching — a call to possibly change lives and set children on the right path for not only academic success, but success in all areas. 

When you are a teacher, you really have the power to make things fun in a classroom.  You never know when a moment and a few sincere words can have an impact on a life. 

Smith said she makes her goal to make school fun for every student — and has worked hard to that end for the entirety of her career. 

That career has been more than 30 years long, and is a hard career for her to step away from. 

"Choosing to step away from a life that has been so fulfilling was a difficult decision.  However, my husband and I decided that the timing was right," Debbie said. "My retirement will allow me to spend more time with my grandchildren and my aging mother as well as pursuing other interests."

According to district administration, parents and students describe her as a caring advocate who loves her student and she will be "greatly missed by families and staff alike"  when she retires at the end of the school year.

"She has touched the lives of hundreds of El Dorado students and their families leaving a legacy of kindness, love and the pursuit of lifelong learning," said Rick Smith.  "... She is truly a home town hero."

She was born and raised in El Dorado, attended El Dorado Schools and graduated from EHS, followed by Butler Community College and Wichita State. Smith has taught for 31 years, all of them as an elementary school teacher in USD 390. 

She married her husband, who at the time worked in the oil industry, during college. The couple has been in El Dorado for their entire adult lives, married 35 years come November. . She chose the school district because she grew up within it, and wanted to 

"El Dorado is my hometown. I chose El Dorado due to the fact that I had a wonderful school experience in USD 490 all the way through High School Graduation," Debbie said. " I have very fond memories of the many fine teachers and classmates along the way who made learning fun and engaging. Family is of utmost importance to me.  Teaching in El Dorado allowed me to be close to my parents and be involved with my two children who also attended USD 490."

According to her husband, it was college when she chose education. But in reality, she made that choice well before that. 

"When I began kindergarten at Skelly Elementary many moons ago, I remember loving everything about school," Debbie said.  " I actually still have a vivid picture in my mind of that wonderful classroom. From that early age, I entertained the idea of being a teacher. I was excited to work with children, and I wanted everyone to love school as much as I did."

She went to college and majored in business, nearly finishing her degree before switching to education. 

"I knew as soon as I entered those college classes, I was exactly where I belonged," Debbie said. 

"It was well chosen. She has been a marvel at it," Rick said. 

She takes pride in hearing from former students, and loves to find out what they are doing with their lives — knowing she helped set the foundation of those lives as an elementary school teacher. 

Debbie Smith gives a little one-on-one time to Janessa Knapp. Smith is in her final year of teaching.

"What I am most proud of is when I see or hear from a former student and get to learn about their lives," Debbie said.  "Being told that they enjoyed me as a teacher, or that they loved being in my class is an unbelievable reward of this career."