Monday Profile: Columbus teacher retires after 25 years of mentoring students and colleagues

At-risk students generally gravitate towards Deborah Pounders.

The recently retired Columbus Municipal School District science teacher isn’t sure why.

“I’ve never really identified what I have to offer, but they tend to be very comfortable with me,” Pounders said. “I have informally mentored at-risk students throughout my career.”

In the 2019-20 school year, “unofficially” became “officially” for Pounders. She created the “Check and Connect” program at Columbus High School, pairing at-risk students with mentor teachers. Pounders was one of the mentors, participating in a program she designed to not only keep students on track, but also to take pride in their accomplishments.

“We always had a chance to brag about them, and the students didn’t feel like we were just telling them everything they needed to fix,” Pounders said.

The program was one of many Pounders accomplishments in a 25-year career with plenty of mentorship — and not just for students.

With a master’s degree in teacher leadership from Mississippi State, which she earned in 2020, Pounders has made it her mission to help early-career teachers navigate a challenging field. She calls it a “win-win” situation, saying she can benefit from their energy and knowledge of new technologies while helping them avoid burnout, a persistent problem among those in their first five years of teaching.

“I love to see that there are people who are still passionate about getting into the education field because we desperately need it right now,” Pounders said.

His retirement became official at the end of the 2021-22 school year, but Pounders wasn’t done helping. She will transition to part-time consulting for teachers in need of support as well as tutoring students preparing for state biology tests.

“I don’t completely want to be away from the students because that’s what I love most about teaching: my kids,” Pounders said.

Travel the world
Pounders showed this while working in various roles within CMSD. She began her career as a long-term supply teacher before taking up a full-time college teaching position.

From there, she worked eight years at the CMSD Alternative School. Pounders taught science in grades seven and eight, a mixed science-biological science class; physics; human anatomy; and physiology – and even a course in world history.

She said she learned quickly that it was important to be thorough and flexible, but caring about the students was paramount.

Deborah Pounders poses with a sign indicating an equal distance to the equator and the North Pole at Yellowstone National Park in Montana. Pounders took students to Montana to attend the annual HATCH Summit and learn how to test water quality. Photo courtesy of Deborah Pounders

“That was the No. 1 thing: student relations,” Pounders said. “What is personally important to them? What are their goals ? What do they want to do? You can take students anywhere once you know what they’re working on and they know you really care and support them.

In a few cases, “taking students anywhere” took on a literal meaning. In a partnership with the National Science Foundation, Pounders sent students to the University of Maine to train them in water quality assessment. Back in Columbus, they tested the water quality of Magby and Luxapalila creeks.

Pounders has also taken students to Montana, and she was once able to travel to the Australian island state of Tasmania for field research in environmental science as part of Mississippi State’s MSU GK12 INSPIRE program. University.

She said Australia had been “on her bucket list” to visit, but it would have cost a teacher’s salary had the NSF not covered the cost.

“It was an amazing opportunity,” Pounders said. “I always tell students, ‘Education can take you places you didn’t think you could go.'”

come out strong
After more than two decades with CMSD, the 2020-21 school year has taken Pounders to another unfamiliar place: Starkville.

Fresh out of her master’s degree, she left the district for a position at Partnership Middle School, hoping to work with Mississippi State’s new teachers and trainee teachers sent to the school.

But Pounders’ best-laid plans went awry. The COVID-19 pandemic limited in-person instruction, and student teachers at MSU were not even allowed into classrooms.

Pounders said leaving for Starkville made him realize it was time to return to Columbus. CMSD “luckily” had a position in biology open, and she jumped at the chance.

A lifelong Columbus resident who attended Caldwell High School and earned her bachelor’s degree from the Women’s University of Mississippi, Pounders said she’s ready to come home.

“It’s the place that built me, and I feel like I want to continue to help build the community,” she said. “I think the best way to do that is to have a strong education system. If students can get an education, they can do whatever they want.

A strengthening education system — the Mississippi legislature passed a teacher pay raise in March — is part of the reason Pounders chose to retire after the last school year. Her husband Harold is also retiring this year and she wanted to spend time with her mother, four children and three grandchildren.

“I wanted to retire on a good season where I was positive about education and felt like I was leaving the students in a good, positive place,” Pounders said. “I never wanted to be one of those teachers who hang around for too long and everyone’s like, ‘Why hasn’t she retired yet?’

“I wanted to leave on a high note,” she added.

Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.

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