A Feature on North Hills Retiree Mrs. Washington


Ellie Kim

For twenty-nine years, Mrs. Washington, North Hills’ beloved ninth grade English teacher, has ruled the halls. She has left her mark on generations of North Hills students, who have enjoyed her enthusiastic approach to teaching and exuberant personality. This year will conclude the end of her remarkable reign. 

Reminiscing, Mrs. Washington fondly recalled her first semester at University of Pittsburgh.  “I went to school to become a psychologist, but I decided against it. There is, to me, a heart that needs to be applied to that profession as well, and my heart would be broken all of the time, which would then make me unable to help people.”  She decided to start over and pursue a career in teaching.  Her father paid for her first year of college; however, the financial expenses piled up. “…my father had paid for all of my education, but then he couldn’t anymore. So I had to go to work! I worked and worked and worked, and school was put on the back burner.” Mrs. Washington worked at a local Sears until the store went out of business.  Now in  her mid 30’s, she took her accumulated earnings and returned to school to complete her teaching degree alongside her 18-year-old freshman classmates, much to her family’s surprise.

Mrs. Washington had many family members who were teachers; however she “didn’t understand at the time that teaching is a calling, not a job. It’s a thing that you have to go to school to learn how to do, but it is more of a heart situation than a pencil and paper one.” When she was in high school, women were encouraged to become secretaries, teachers, etc., and she wanted to rebel against the “norm.” Ironically, the career path that she initially rejected, became her passion, pushing herself to be the best teacher she can.

Mrs. Washington gets up before the crack of dawn (4:15!), to prepare for every upcoming school day. She finds that throughout the day, her brain is always turned on, focused on improving and engaging her students. “Most of my day is devoted to who I am here, and I am always thinking about how I can make the lesson better. How can I reach that child that seems disinterested? My brain is constantly firing.” Each day is filled with highlights for Mrs. Washington. Every period has its quirks that make it different, keeping the job from getting monotonous. Especially gratifying are the many former students who return to visit her years later, sharing how she influenced them. Mrs. Washington appreciates every aspect of her day, enjoying the energy from students, the profound thoughts children produce, and relishing her everyday life. 

Children–Mrs. Washington loves working with children. She has a daughter of her own who serves as a constant reminder of how she should treat the children of others. “At the end of the day, it is always about respect. It doesn’t matter that you are all kids, you still deserve respect.” Her mentality is in evidence from her inclusive lesson planning to her class rules. She uses teaching as a way to help children to dive deeper and think critically to develop a true love of literature, while encouraging them to become whoever they want to be. After she retires, Mrs. Washington plans to use English as a tool to help children connect with young authors throughout the country. She is searching for young authors interested in teaching, looking to connect a teacher’s lesson plans with modern writing. “What is the why? As a teacher, if I can’t explain that, then I am doing something wrong or not understanding the ‘why’ myself.”

Even after she is gone, Mrs. Washington will continue to brighten the halls of North Hills with her wisdom. For the upcoming students, I hope that you will get the chance to meet her at least once, whether it be through her new ideas for literature or her ‘wonderful wall of words’.  And let us all take these words of hers to heart:  “Don’t be afraid and never give up. Keep at it. There is nothing to fear…For kids who come to high school and feel like they are alone on an island, we are all in this together. Every student has within them everything they need to be successful.”