For Dickson County teacher Rhonda Madden, life is an everlasting call to encourage, challenge and inspire with healthy doses of humor, heart and healing.
Now beginning her 37th year of teaching, the native of Burns could not be more delighted by her recent promotion to teaching science to fifth graders at Stuart Burns Elementary School.
Madden had previously taught every grade from kindergarten through fourth grade.
“I student-taught in second grade with Vickie White at Oakmont Elementary,” said the graduate of Austin Peay State University. “I love science — so this is my dream job.”
She said she couldn’t be any happier at SBES, noting that the school picked up an additional 100 students this year with the recent rezoning for the county’s schools.
“We are a second family here,” she said. “If something does happen, then we all pull together to help each other out. It’s just a family community; and we’re just so blessed to have so many wonderful teachers, and the administration is great. I have been very blessed with good teachers back then and now.”
Madden said she has lived in Dickson County all of her life and has never wanted to go anywhere else.
“I actually live on the same street now where I lived when I was a kid,” she said. “It was my aunt’s house. When she passed away, I got her house.”
Madden recalls making the decision to teach when she was in the seventh grade.
“I always loved children,” she said. “I remember having a wonderful fourth grade teacher who stood at the door to greet us. It left a lasting impression that still moves me to this day.”
She recalls that she was shy back when she was a student in school.
“But you have to be theatrical, show emotion and play around with the kids,” she said. “This helped me get out of my shyness. You have to be willing to do silly things like dressing up as a clown, or blowing a cotton ball across the gym floor while you’re racing against other teachers.”
She couldn’t feel more confident or delighted to be teaching fifth grade.
“With this fifth grade team, I feel like I’ve been here all of my life because we all work so well together,” she said, giving a nod to her fellow team members - Rachel Fitzgerald, Melissa Creasy, Julie Grambow and Cassidy Lovelace.
Madden said she feels honored to be the first in her family to graduate from college. She has three siblings, all brothers. She has three dogs —a pug named Susie, a teddy bear dog (shih tzu-bichon Frise mix) named Sassy and a chihuahua-shih tzu mix named Gizmo — that keep her occupied.
“I remember back in fifth grade, a banker came to school on career day and gave me a little plastic book for keeping dimes in,” she said. “I kept putting them in, and I did not touch that money until I got to college. It did help to pay for my college career. It’s important to impact kids with the real world.”
Longtime impact on Burns
She also acknowledged that her students — some of whom are children of her former students — also serve to teach her in many ways.
“They help me a lot with technology, and the games they play,” she said. “Sometimes we use games to help with teaching. I love to get them to talk about what books they are reading.”
She said she has had many mentors, including Kenny Fussell, the principal who hired her.
“He gave me the best advice when he said that a teacher on her feet is worth 10 in her seat,” she said.
SBES bookkeeper Patti Scherer said that Madden has been an excellent teacher for many years.
“She’s devoted to the kids and the school community,” Scherer said.
Principal Amanda Nicks also praised Madden, who was named the county’s elementary school teacher of the year in 2012.
“As long as there has been a Stuart Burns Elementary, there has been Rhonda Madden,” Nicks said. “In addition to the wonderful job she does in her classroom, she helps with everything at our school: tutoring, fundraising, pep rallies, kickball games and more. She is also a leader in our district and is currently the DCEA (Dickson County Education Association) president. She loves our school and the Burns community.”
As for challenges that teachers face, she cited one that is required for teachers, students and parents.
“Technology is key,” she said. “Finding the equipment I need can be hard, but the good is that if you put out a call to parents, they are very supportive. I once needed egg cartons for an experiment, and they provided so many, I still have some. If students could have technology to take home with them, that would be nice.”
Teaching the future
As for things Madden looks forward to at SBES, one of her favorites is Ballapalooza, now in its third year.
“We were given freedom to come up with a new idea to bring the community back into it and get kids involved,” she said. “We used to have the Fall Festival that was popular, but support had dwindled. So Ballapalooza has been a wonderful success for family and community and the school.”
As for advice for aspiring teachers, she was quick to directly respond.
“Love what you do, make sure you can work well with people because it’s a team effort,” she said. “Learn how to give and take; and understand that you don’t always get your way. Recognize that parents are a big part of support, and keep communications open with parents and fellow teachers and administrators — and your students. Part of teaching is relating to kids, to let them share stories and ideas.”
When asked about retirement, Madden paused briefly before answering.
“Moving to fifth grade and my love for teaching science hands on has renewed my spirit,” she said. “In my heart, I’ll know when it’s time to retire. For now, I won’t retire. I still love these kids.”