Yates honored for 40 years in education

Published 10:32 am Monday, January 4, 2016

For more than 40 years, Gwendolyn Yates affected lives in a positive manner as an educator.

Her saying “great teachers beget great teachers” is her way of giving back to former instructors who set her down a path of educational service.

Yates was awarded with the 2015 NAACP Community Service Award on Dec. 27 She was nominated by Walter Sheriff and John Shorter, president of the local chapter presented her with the award at Standfield New Life Christian Church.

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Yates’ career can be broken down into three occasions. She initially taught math for 33 years before retiring; helped over 100 students receive their GED diplomas in her second term before retiring two years ago; and currently works with the GED department at Good Shepherd Community Center.

“I was surprised about that,” Yates said. “I think I’m the first teacher to receive that award. I thought that award was very deserving and I accept the award on behalf of all the teachers that were imparted into me.”

The award came as a shock to Yates because it showed she was finally being recognized for her work. She is appreciative of the award and what it represents.

“It means a lot because I came through the civil rights era and I think about the sacrifices those teachers made during that time,” Yates said. “I grew up in a time where there was injustice and the teachers poured a lot into us because they knew when we leave there we had to be better.”

Yates began teaching mathematics in 1970 after receiving her bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Alcorn State and her master’s degree from Mississippi College.

When Yates first became a teacher, she felt her education was inferior to other instructors, even though she received much acclaim and praise for her intelligence as a student at Temple High and Alcorn.

“I had to work hard to prove I was pretty good at what I was doing,” Yates said.

The fact of her not being able to teach the advanced math classes she felt she was capable of teaching didn’t ease any of her doubts.

“I think when they assign teachers schedules it should be a balance of lower classes and high classes, but that never happened to me,” Yates said. “Once you learn all this math you really would like to teach it because sometime you’ll forget it.”

Yates operated a tutoring business for 20 years, and while it’s not currently in business, she still offers tutoring to those who ask.

Aside from her classroom work, Yates has authored a book of poems titled “Hometown Matters of the Heart,” and has produced three albums between 2009 and 2013 titled “Faith Walter” – which is available on iTunes – “Men of Valor” and “My Lord and All I Believe.” While she does plan to write another book, she isn’t quite sure if she’ll produce another album.

Ultimately, Yates’ calling is to be a teacher.

The most rewarding part of teaching for Yates is to see students final grasp the material they might’ve struggled with early on.

Yates salutes teachers past, present and future for doing a great job as educators.

“In high school is where [students] get their foundation. A lot of times we lost students in high school, they drop out because they’re not motivated,” Yates said. “We have to motivate our students to be productive.”