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By Rachel Lewis Allee.

Shirley Robertson’s teaching career began at an unusually early age. “My mother would tell me that when I was a little girl I would gather the neighborhood children on the steps in front of the house and teach. That’s when I started,” Shirley says with a smile.

For Shirley Robertson 18 years teaching third grade brings the reward of seeing "some growth among the students and ... learning together" with them. Photo by Win Grant.

Her natural proclivity for teaching continued to develop as the years passed: as a teenager she worked in the Sunday school at Parkview Baptist Church (now Patterson Avenue Baptist Church), where her father served as pastor. After college, Shirley worked for several Richmond-area churches in educational roles, and then spent 35 years training teachers around the state through the Virginia Baptist Board (now the Virginia Baptist Mission Board). The year after she retired from this work, she joined First Baptist and immediately put her years of experience to use by teaching a second grade Sunday school class. After working with that class for a year, she moved to third grade where she still teaches, eighteen years later.

Teaching for so long has been quite gratifying, she says. “It’s rewarding to see some growth among the students and to be with them and learning together. And when you run into them 18 years later it’s rewarding. So many that I’ve taught here, I see they’ve moved on to the next grades and so many will come up for a hug, even the teenage boys I taught in the 3rd grade!” Her regular teaching partners are Catherine Dunn and John Hughes, who have each taught Sunday school at First Baptist for years.

“Catherine does the group time; you might call what I do the activity time, but it’s all part of the lesson. She calls me on Tuesday nights and I’ve already planned the schedule and we talk it over. I tell her what we need and she tells John, who makes copies for us and gets supplies. When we get there he has everything laid out for us that we need.” It’s an ideal situation, she says, and John, who has worked with several different age groups at FBC over the past 15 years, agrees.

John Hughes teaches Third Grade Sunday school. Photo by Win Grant.

“It’s a good team. I write everything down and get it set up and ready to go. But my joke with them is that I’m still ‘in training.’ That’s why I tell them they can’t retire,” he says with a chuckle. Like Shirley, John enjoys the relational benefits of teaching long-term. “When I walk down the hall I know all the kids. There are kids now in eleventh and twelfth grades that I taught as kindergartners.” In addition, he says, the influence of long-term teachers extends beyond the students. “In the process you meet the parents; you just get to know more people.”

Clyde Davis says that the teaching experience is "Christianity at its basics." Photo by Win Grant.

Clyde and Susan Davis, who have taught the three-year-old Sunday school class at FBC for around 28 years, also feel strongly about their longtime roles as influencers. “This is the only time some children have contact with the church. I keep that in mind all the time,” says Susan. “It’s a neat place to do mission work,” adds Clyde, noting that he enjoys watching his former students change as they grow older. “You see them get dedicated, they come through our class, they accept Christ, and then we see them going away from high school to college, then getting married, and they invite you to their weddings. That’s pretty awesome.”

Susan Davis has taught the three-year-old Sunday school class for 28 years. Photo by Win Grant.

Susan explains that some changes become very apparent even during the one year she and Clyde teach them. “They come in seeming so young, but by the time they leave us the next fall, it’s amazing how much they’ve matured, how their spiritual life has grown.”

Observing those small but fundamental changes in the hearts and minds of the children has never gotten old, Clyde says. “You watch them change and blossom, see them start coming together, loving each other, respecting each other. It’s Christianity at its basics.”

Rachel Lewis Allee

Rachel Lewis Allee. Photo by Jonathan Allee.

Rachel and her husband, Jonathan, are new members of First Baptist and attend the Young Couples class. Rachel teaches eleventh and twelfth grade English and coaches softball at Richmond Christian School. Every now and then she has time to work in the garden, read and write fiction, and play the piano. She and Jonathan enjoy playing with their happy-go-lucky hound dog, Oliver, and hanging out at their cottage in Mechanicsville.

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