Smith wants her students to ‘do things, to serve’

Published 9:30 am Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A lifetime of teaching has served Arlean Smith well. It’s become a part of who she is.

The Warren Central High School teacher has a real passion for her students and, actually, all students.

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Smith knows just about everyone who walks through the Vikings’ halls, and their mothers too.

She is a special education teacher who teaches career preparation, science, English and math to 50 students. Smith also has her students do hands-on work to learn job skills.

“I want them to learn to do things, to serve,” Smith said.

One of those jobs is helping the cafeteria workers clean up after lunch. Smith became ServSafe Certified, a food and beverage safety training program all cafeteria workers must have, to better teach her students about working in the cafeteria.

She takes her students on field trips to show them possible job opportunities in fields where they show interest. Smith also likes to incorporate life lessons into her curriculum like balancing a checkbook, writing a resume and counting money.

In addition to teaching in the classroom, Smith is the club sponsor for Future Teachers of America.

“There are many teachers in this district that started out in Future Teacher of America,” Smith said. “I’ve been doing that since I’ve been here because that’s part of teaching, turning around and helping somebody else become a teacher or become a better teacher.”

Being a lifelong student herself, Smith loves learning something new every day from her students. Some people may get tired being with students all day, but she said her students give her energy. When she comes to school feeling down, one kind word from a student lifts her spirits.

“I miss them when I’m away from them,” she said.

Over the years she has lost 16 students, and it is consistently hard for her to be away from her students because she often fears for their safety.

“I have a list on my refrigerator at home that I keep of every child that I’ve lost,” she said. “People don’t realize that you get attached to these kids.”

Though being a teacher is permanently part of her personality now, growing up she thought she wanted to be a physical therapist.

“In college that did not work out. So I took a sign language class just to clear my mind and see what I wanted to do next, and a year and a half later, I was a deaf educator,” she said.

The class, one she always wanted to take for fun, turned around her entire career. She changed her major to deaf education and graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi.

“It just went so fast. I started making As rather than Cs and Ds, and I understood so much about what I was learning,” Smith said. “It’s like that’s where I was suppose to be all along. God just put me where I was suppose to be.”

She spent a few years at the Mississippi School for the Deaf, but came back home to Vicksburg after her grandfather became sick.

“It just so happened that year we had deaf children, four little girls in seventh grade, so I started there at Warren Central Junior High,” Smith said.

She followed the girls grade by grade until they graduated.

“I’m still close to them,” Smith said. “They’re now 43, 44, 45 years old.”

Smith decided to expand her horizons and went back to school while still teaching to earn two additional teaching certificates, one in learning disabilities and another in elementary education. Having these certificates allowed Smith to teach her deaf students as well as their peers in class.

“I realized I didn’t want to just work with deaf children, I wanted to work with all children who need me,” Smith said.

She reaches her students by working with them one on one.

“My kids are not listened to by a whole lot of people so it’s important that I listen to everything,” Smith said. “My kids need to be heard.”

Smith’s mother taught her to listen to children and multiple other lessons in life like dressing properly for work.

“If I’m a good teacher, it’s because my first teacher was my momma,” Smith said of her mom who was a bus driver for 45 years.

Smith herself is a graduate of Warren Central. She has one daughter, Adrianna, 26, who manages a gym in Flowood. Smith has been married to Roosevelt Kip Smith, the chief photog at WJTV, for 30 years.