Veteran teacher’s passion is in the first grade classroom
By Dana Delgado
Every day, Mary Davis makes her way to her dimly lit and seemingly undersized work space surrounded by scores of essential materials in a uniquely arranged laboratory for the monumental task of preparing kids for school and life success.
Her small desk overflowing with paper sits awkwardly turned and almost incidentally placed by the entrance. A variety of workstations abutted in each corner of the room encircle a rectangular cluster of smaller desks.
It is here and places like this that for the last 26 of 27 years running — 10 at Liberty Hill Elementary School — that Mary Davis has been welcoming first graders. Their success has been her passion and life’s work.
“I love coming and being with the kids,” Davis said. “Every day is a new day even after 27 years. Nothing stays the same and you can’t predict what’s going to happen. What makes teaching exciting is watching kids make connections with their life and run with it!”
After teaching at other school districts, Davis has settled in with the Liberty Hill Independent School District.
“I love it at Liberty Hill,” she said. “Liberty Hill Elementary School is a great campus and we have a wonderful staff and first grade team. There are many great new things.”
Davis has also taught at Floresville and at Copperas Cove where she was a recognized teacher and served as team leader. Once, believing she needed a change, tried second grade when her principal asked her to move up with her students, but returned to first grade the next year.
“In first grade, you see so much growth,” Davis said. “At this age they are so caring and sharing with each other. Everyone is equal. It’s such a family environment and they feel so safe being here that every so often, they even call me momma. Expectations have changed over time, but kids have always risen to the challenge.”
Davis’ mother had lovingly nudged her towards a career in business, not teaching, a role she had grown up playing with her sisters while developing a love for books. The Burnet County native, who grew up in nearby Bertram and attended high school in Burnet, already had other thoughts; although, she wasn’t about to defy her mother.
As a high school student and clarinet player in the band, Davis was tabbed as one of the band director’s student assistants and won the opportunity to help with the elementary school band program. It was an experience she would never forget and her band director, Lewis Phelps — whom she describes as a “very regimented director who expected a lot from everyone and was always encouraging” — would not only be her mentor but would influence her teaching style.
For her first two years in college, Davis at her mother’s insistence was enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin in the business school, but switched to elementary education her junior year.
“Coming from a small town, I loved UT because it was so big,” she said. “I did my student teaching at Buda and quickly learned all about pink-eye, which was a ‘welcome to the profession of teaching’ moment.”
“Teaching has meant fulfillment for me,” she said. “I feel like I’ve made a difference in their lives. Besides giving you all their little things, kids are so sweet and caring. The one thing I’ve discovered about myself is that I have a lot of patience. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. I enjoy it so much.”
Davis said she is always looking for ways to improve her classroom.
“I just want the best for them and will fight for what kids need,” she said.
The veteran educator, who has served on textbook review committees to make sure students get the best resources, said that changes to the curriculum have included more language arts and reading as well as increases in writing and technology.
“We just started using IPads and the kids are so excited,” she added.
Now back living at the old family homestead in Bertram with her husband, Steve, Davis is busy raising goats and spending time with her grandchildren. She and her husband enjoy traveling as well as taking road trips on their motorcycles. But her students, those endearing first graders, are never far from her thoughts.