When the school year concludes next month, it marks the end of the 34-year teaching career of Debbie Callan.
Callan, 55, spent her entire career educating first-graders, not only in the same school but in the same classroom at Bel Air Elementary.
Though sentimental about her impending retirement, Callan said she will leave with no regrets.
“I have a Dr. Seuss quote (written) near the (classroom) door that says, ‘Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened,’” Callan said. “That sums up how I feel.
“I’m not leaving because I’m frustrated or upset with my profession. I’m leaving because the timing is right.”
Bel Air Elementary Principal Mark Boyd started working with Callan 12 years ago, and she continuously impressed him.
When conducting teacher observations each year, Boyd said Callan so captivates him that he spends as much as an hour in her classroom. Other teachers might get 20 minutes.
“Besides her being as incredible a teacher as I’ve ever seen, is all the other things she’s involved in,” Boyd said. “She had to make some kind of a deal with God so she gets 30-hour days.”
In addition to her first-grade classes, Callan belongs to several school committees, often stays late to tutor pupils, and also teaches education majors at Augusta State University. She intends to keep teaching a college class each semester.
Primarily, though, Callan wants to spend more time with her infant granddaughters in her retirement.
“I had a recent reminder of just how precious life is,” she said. “I had a first-grader who the next year was diagnosed with cancer. He held on for a few years, but died this past summer, the same day of my son’s wedding.
“I want to be a part of my grandchildren’s lives as much as I can, because every second counts.”
Those grandchildren belong to her daughters Jessica Williams and Danielle Starcher, teachers at Bel Air Elementary and River Ridge Elementary, respectively.
Dr. Rick Callan, Debbie’s husband, also teaches; he is a professor in the College of Dental Medicine at Georgia Health Sciences University.
Callan’s son, Richard, is in medical school in Savannah.
A six-time Bel Air Elementary Teacher of the Year and the county Teacher of the Year in 1992, Callan will leave behind a legacy that extends beyond inspiring a family of educators.
“I’ve taught the children of parents who were in my class as children,” she said. “And they still want me to teach their children. That’s a good feeling.”
Though offered opportunities to teach higher grades, and even enter school administration, Callan said she never gave serious consideration to leaving her classroom.
“I think teaching is a blessing and a calling,” she said. “I just couldn’t leave the classroom. They (her pupils) kept me on my toes.”
And Callan’s pupils benefitted from her commitment to the classroom, Boyd said.
“She sets incredibly high expectations for her kids, but at the end of the year, they all meet them,” he said. “She’s probably the most phenomenal teacher I’ve ever been around.”
Once Callan retires, another teacher might take her classroom space, but not for long.
School officials announced last year that larger versions of Evans and Martinez elementary schools were to be constructed. Once finished, within the next two to three years, Bel Air Elementary will close and those pupils rezoned to the newer schools.
“I think that makes me sadder than the thought of leaving,” Callan said. “This has been a wonderful school to me and the entire community. I’m going to miss it.”