JONESVILLE — Jen Roberts is Jonesville Elementary/Middle School’s 2012-2013 Teacher of the Year.
“I never thought I would be a teacher,” Roberts said as she began to describe the winding path which led to her current career as a first grade teacher at Jonesville EMS.
Roberts said when she graduated from Union High School in 2001, like many local graduates, she felt a desperate need to experience life outside of Union. She envisioned herself living in a big city, making good money, and she headed to Coker College in Hartsville.
Roberts’ parents — Randy and Melinda Crocker — both worked for the Union County School District at the time and encouraged her to consider a major in education. Randy is currently the Union County School District Coordinator of School Safety/Security, and Melinda taught mathematics in Union County for 24 years before accepting a position at Woodruff High School, where she has taught for eight years and was named Teacher of the Year for the 2011-2012 school year.
Despite her parents’ suggestions, Roberts decided to major in mass communications.
“My parents had always encouraged me to pursue teaching, but as a typical teenager I did not listen to them,” she said.
One week before graduating from Coker and earning a bachelor’s degree, Roberts secured a job as an inside sales representative with a building products company.
“Life after college was not as exciting as I had envisioned,” Roberts said. “Work was monotonous, and I started looking for some way to make a difference in the world.”
She began volunteering in a kindergarten class a couple days a week during her lunch hour, and she said she enjoyed it immensely.
“I wondered if perhaps I had made a colossal career mistake,” Roberts said.
She began taking a Career Development Facilitator class, thinking that would be a way into education without actually becoming a teacher. Finding a position in that field was difficult, however, and during that time, she received a call from a contact she had made through a college internship. A doctor in the Columbia area was looking for someone with a marketing background to help with a facial plastic surgery practice.
“That was it — the job of a lifetime!” Roberts said. “Health care marketing had been my ultimate goal all along, so the thoughts of working in education were quickly put on the back burner.”
She said the job was exciting, but as time went on, she continued to experience a nagging feeling that she was not doing what she was meant to do. After long conversations with her husband, Brandon, and her parents, she considered moving back to Union.
“Much to my surprise, I actually missed small town life,” Roberts said.
She was hired for a position in the computer lab at Jonesville Elementary School, and she attended Converse College at night, earning a master’s degree in teaching in 2009.
Roberts said she was fortunate to be able to student teach at Jonesville, and she was then hired to teach kindergarten there.
Although her career path differed from her mother’s at first, the two paths became more similar as time went on. Her mother knew she wanted to teach mathematics when she was in eighth grade, and she said she has no doubt that she teaches because it is God’s plan for her life. Now, Roberts believes God had the same plan for her career, but she believes the winding path to get there was also part of God’s plan.
“God worked everything out and laid a clear path for me to be able to go back to school,” Roberts said.
She explained that the building products company allowed her to save money for school. She also said that if she had never tried working in health care, she would have always wondered if she had missed out on something big.
Roberts was asked a question she has been asked many times — if she would change her undergraduate major if she could go back and do it all over again.
“The answer is a resounding ‘no,’” she said. “God allowed me to take that path so that I would know for certain that teaching is what I was supposed to do with my life. I feel like I’m making a difference and accomplishing something every day.”
Roberts currently teaches first grade at Jonesville EMS, and she enjoys preparing students for second grade and life in general. She is currently working with Emily Kellam, a student teacher from Winthrop.
Roberts said her students are learning to type in the computer lab.
“They are using the hunt-and-peck, two-finger method right now, but we’re working on it,” Roberts said.
The first graders have also started a daily blog, which is completed by two students each day. The first graders type all of the sometimes misspelled blogs on their own, letting the entire world know what they have learned each day. Crocker said they are very excited about that chance and hope people will read the blogs, which can be found at jk8room215.edublogs.org.
Roberts said her greatest contributions at this point in her teaching career are the love and encouragement she gives to each child placed in her care each day. She said she often talks about the “light bulb coming on” in her classroom when students begin to understand a new idea.
“As a teacher, the most rewarding accomplishment is to see the excitement on a child’s face when they grasp a new concept,” she said. “I look forward to many more ‘light bulb’ moments as I continue on this journey.”
Aside from school, Roberts enjoys spending quality time with her husband, Brandon, their nearly-two-year-old son, Jace, and the family pet, a chihuahua named Izzy. The family attends Philippi Baptist Church, where Roberts volunteers in the nursery.
Staff Writer Derik Vanderford can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 29, or by email at email@example.com.