LAURINBURG — Education was not her first career choice, but once Sallye McLaurin decided to step into the classroom, she never looked back.
On Saturday, McLaurin was awarded the state’s highest honor — the Order of the Long Leaf Pine — for her service to the school system and the community. The award is given by the governor’s office to residents of the state who have gone above and beyond the call of duty and stand out in their communities, serving others.
McLaurin taught high school chemistry and physical science in Scotland County for 35 years, retiring in 2000. She also coached softball, basketball and volleyball.
McLaurin said the recognition was a great honor, but even better was the love shown to her from her former students and those she coached.
“Hearing what they really felt being in my class, all of my children, it was wonderful,” she said. “It was the most wonderful event that I’ve been to.”
Her first career was also one involving helping people, but in a different way.
“I was a nurse first. I worked three and half years in Bronx State Hospital in New York City,” she said. “I had my teaching degree when I went into nursing.”
Her career in education began when she returned to Scotland County to take care of her sick mother.
“Teaching to me was a joy to me because I could see my values, my cultures and my status in education and being a person who wanted to succeed in life wearing off on the children that I taught. Children tell me everyday, Ms. McLaurin if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have made it. When you see that or feel that, you know somewhere in this world, that was God’s plan for you to help others be successful in life.”
Minister Michelle Williams, who chaired the appreciation program, is one of those students. After returning to Laurinburg last year, Williams said she was surprised to hear no one had honored McLaurin, so she took it upon herself to do so and contacted state Rep. Garland Pierce’s office. Pierce presented the award to McLaurin on Saturday.
“She was an educator who challenged us to be greater than the community that you came from, whether it was an area with drugs or a single parent home — which I came from. I did and I went to college and I now have two masters degrees because of her tutelage.”
Williams was also a part of basketball, volleyball and softball teams McLaurin coached during her four years of high school.
Although she is retired, McLaurin is still active, whether it is tutoring or helping seniors in the neighborhood. She also likes to travel, which is why her family warned members of the planning committee to inform McLaurin of the honor or otherwise she might be out of town.
“I had no idea they were doing this for me,” McLaurin said. “But I was very happy and felt good about the fact they think enough of me to do so … that they would recognize me as someone that they admired through the years.”
While McLaurin’s students love her, they also said she was tough. Her “rod of knowledge” assisted with that. It was wooden meter stick that she kept handy and she wasn’t afraid to use. If a child misbehaved in her class, McLaurin would call the parents and their response would be, “you know what to do.”
She said she sees “her kids” everywhere said they will ask her does she need help or offer to pay for items for her. She always turns them down.
“I said no, my goal for you is to be successful and you have accomplished that and I feel good about it,” she tells them.
She is the mother of two children, a son and a daughter and grandmother of two grandsons. She said she tried to instill instill in them the importance of hard work, dedication and doing what will put you where you want to be.
What she didn’t do was encourage them to go into education.
“Education is a nice field, but you don’t make any money,” McLaurin said.
Still she said if she had to go back and do it all over again, she would still become a teacher.
“I want my legacy to be that I live in the house by the side of the road and I helped someone as they passed along the way. Whether it was by the side of the road or within the community.”
Her advice to teachers today is to be in control of their classroom and to teach their subject matter. She thinks not enough students today are interested working to be successful. According to McLaurin, young people are more interested in cell phones and other devices. She said remove those things from the classroom.
She also suggests teachers walk into the classroom with great expectations.
“Be a teacher and not a friend to the student. You’re not a friend to the student, you’re the student’s teacher. And look like a teacher,” McLaurin said.
Maria D. Grandy can be reached at 910-506-3171.