Reba Wilson Kennedy passed at age 91 on Thursday, March 24 at Oaks at Cedar Shoals in Athens, Georgia.
Kennedy was one of the all-time favorite elementary school teachers for the graduating class of 1962 during their fourth-grade year at the Reidsville Elementary School (RES) in 1953. She taught all subjects, but reading was her specialty.
R. L. Akins, the principal at RES school in the 1990s, assigned those students lacking reading proficiency in the early primary grades to Kennedy. Her expertise as a reading teacher was widely known among educators and parents.
Children quickly began reading almost effortlessly and enthusiastically. Sometimes, Kennedy would caution them to slow down and pronounce their words more carefully. When he or she finished, there would be smiles across both of their faces.
She began teaching in 1951 and retired in 2010. She stayed home with her daughter, Emma, for five years beginning in 1965 before returning to the classroom.
When she began in 1951, reading materials and resources were scarce. She wrote to text book companies asking for any additional instructional materials, and she still had a pamphlet, Your Child can Learn to Read, which she ordered from the textbook company of Row, Peterson, and Company. It listed for 39 cents, but they sent it to her free. She gradually built a personal library of reading materials and resources to help her serve her students better.
Kennedy has been described as one of the sweetest ladies but in the classroom, she was focused and all business.
Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of Kennedy’s career in education was the fact that she transitioned from teaching children in the 1950s to teaching children in the early 2000s effortlessly. She taught classes with as many as 40 students and some with as few as 14. Her philosophy was simple — each child is different and learns differently. Determining how they learn is the key to success, and then hard work and concentration produce the desired results. Finally, the children had to understand that failure was not an option.
Even as she pushed students to do their best and nipped at the heels of those who slacked off occasionally, she was universally loved by her students regardless of whether she taught them in 1951 or 2010. Mention her name and the response almost always ends with, “she was the best teacher I ever had.”
She loved children and they knew it. When she retired in 2010, she stated, “Children are like dogs and cats in a way. They can sense if you love them, and they respond. I’d go back tomorrow if my health permitted it. I truly loved it.”