Career of service coming to an end for Chambers
By MIKE EDDLEMAN
Education has countless moving parts, from curriculum to sports to budgets and beyond, but when Terrie Chambers begins to feel the pressure of these hurdles and challenges, she stops and reminds herself that it is all about service.
Bill Burden, the longtime educator whose name is on the school Chambers leads in Liberty Hill ISD, gave her the important advice more than three decades ago when he first encouraged her to plunge into teaching.
“If you just keep remembering service is your first role you will never feel like the job is bigger than you can handle, and he was right,” she said.
But even after 20 years as a classroom teacher in various districts, when the opportunity to be a principal presented itself 13 years ago, Chambers was still nervous when she found out she’d lead a campus named after the man who first inspired her.
“When I was finishing up my (administrative) certification and knew I wanted to go into leadership there was talk of building a new elementary, but I had no idea what the name of that new elementary was and the district decided they were going to name it Bill Burden Elementary,” Chambers said. “It was the best choice they ever could have made because he was such a true educator in the largest sense. He modeled and coached for everyone, he was such an influencer. When I found out I was coming here I about half panicked. The responsibility was huge, and Mr. Burden was one of the first that said, ‘You’re not doing this by yourself. You’ve got a building full of people to share that responsibility with.’”
At the end of this, her 35th year in education, Chambers is retiring, and looking for the next great challenge in her life, but the self-identified “schoolaholic” admits it is difficult to let go.
“What am I missing?” she said, wondering what she may not be a part of going forward. “Being part of this community, there’s nothing better. Having the opportunity to serve in a leadership position, there’s nothing better than this.
“I have a lot of life and a lot of time and a lot to give and really, the choice to retire was tough,” she said. “I don’t know if I made the right choice, but I’ve always given all of my bad decisions and my messes over to God and he always makes it good.”
But a desire to spend more time with family, especially her grandchildren, is at the root of her retirement decision.
“I’m retiring because time goes by so fast that my grandchildren are now growing up and the world is moving so fast with them that I can’t be part of it,” she said. “I need to be reading (to my granddaughter) in person and I can’t do that.”
Chambers knows there are other challenges and opportunities ahead even though they have not been fully identified. But she knows she has to “learn how to not be at school.”
“I don’t know yet,” she said of her other plans. “I’m going to try and figure this world out without school in it, and then I’m going to work.”
Bill Burden Elementary will be in good hands, no matter who steps into the principal’s office leading into next year.
“If we didn’t have a single outside applicant for this position, there are half a dozen or more well-qualified outside people who could walk in and Burden or any other campus we have would continue to just get better,” she said. “This is the place to be. Whatever happens here is going to be a good thing.”
How it began
A lover of science and the outdoors, her intent was to be a game warden, and Chambers began her college education at Sul Ross in Alpine, in game and wildlife management. But the politics of the federal budget led to a moratorium on hiring and she found she could not go full time with the work she was doing for the Corps of Engineers.
Chambers swore she would never work in an office and says she didn’t get into education, it got into her after the roadblock in her initial plan.
“I met several people in (Liberty Hill), started coaching Little League and met Mr. Burden,” she said. “Mr. Burden was a huge influence and said, ‘Why don’t you go into education? You’re doing it anyway. You’re doing all these things.’ So I did.”
She taught astronomy, geology and biology, coached basketball, volleyball and tennis and when she came back to Liberty Hill in the late 80s and early 90s she even branched out into literature, writing and special education.
“Thirty-five years later I’m still following Mr. Burden’s advice and teaching and coaching, just in different areas,” she said. “Instead of sports, now I feel like I’m coaching kids and teachers and parents. It’s more of a mentoring role.”
The education challenge
Chambers doesn’t feel that curriculum is the biggest challenge facing teachers, but said instead it is establishing the relationships with students and families that help teachers understand where children are and what barriers they have to cope with.
“There are so many things our children bring to school with them, parental influences, that social and emotional learning that they bring with them or that they don’t have and don’t bring with them,” she said. “Students can’t learn if you don’t meet those things. Helping make sure everyone understands that you meet those needs at the same time you’re meeting academic needs. The greatest challenge is recognizing them and accepting that you teach those at the same time.”
Learning that part of teaching became a big draw for Chambers.
“Behaviors get in the way of learning,” she said. “If you’re going to teach you learn behaviors, so it became brain research. It just started and as you dig in you want a little more and you learn something which takes you to something else and you want to learn a little bit more. That’s been my road, just learn a little bit more.”
Communication, with students and parents is critical, but can’t be convenient and easy.
“The only way someone is going to trust your decision-making process is to know you and know why you made those decisions,” Chambers said. “We always jump and judge. Social media can be your friend and social media can be your worst enemy. The only way you know the why is to sit across the table from somebody. To sit down and talk about it.”
The sales pitch
As Chambers steps away from education, she wishes she could share the feeling of success as a teacher and the relationships that carry on with students for years to come. That is evident to her each year in Liberty Hill as she watches another graduating class move on.
“That’s your measuring stick,” she said. “I wish I could impart that feeling and wish I could blanket any person that decides they want to go into education with that feeling when you go to HEB or go to Dahlia’s or go downtown and see former students. If I could give that feeling to somebody I could fill universities with students wanting to be teachers.”
The connection is invaluable, but the responsibility is huge.
“You realize how impactful you can be,” she said. “As a young teacher or coach you are imparting your knowledge on others that need it. I was young and arrogant. I know all of these things, here let me show you. All of the sudden, though, you become an influencer and then the responsibility of what kind of influencer are you and you become aware of the unintended influences you can have.”
Education then becomes this great responsibility, but when students understand and learn and put things into practice, she said there is nothing better.
“People are watching and they look, and you become their influencer,” Chambers said. “You always want to make sure they are influenced well enough that they can manage unknowns. The minute they take something you’ve taught and apply it and you see that success, you’re hooked.”
Today, students on the Bill Burden campus are often the children of students she taught 20 years ago at Liberty Hill Middle School.
“I had the opportunity to touch every child that went through middle school, which means I touched their families, and I made those relationships,” she said. “That was the group, when I came back here as a principal, that was bringing me their children and I am still seeing a lot of that.”
Those long-term connections meant an outpouring of congratulations and nostalgia from former students, and the comments Chambers received upon her retirement announcement had her pulling out pictures for regular trips down memory lane.
“They stopped and read the article then took a minute to share just a thought for me and they did it publicly,” she said. “I read every one of those, I saw every one of those faces and I heard from students and parents from when I first started to parents who I have most recently had their children here at Burden. I said thank you because they took their time to say thank you to me and that I did touch them.”