Retired teacher, Bee Donley, shares ‘A Life in Mississippi Classrooms’ and poetry books

May 18, 2017 in Education, News

By Janice K. Neal-Vincent

Contributing Writer

Ninety-three-year-old retiree Lee Donley, seated, is surrounded by students she taught in Mississippi. PHOTOS BY JANICE K. NEAL-VINCENT

Ninety-three-year-old retiree Lee Donley, seated, is surrounded by students she taught in Mississippi. PHOTOS BY JANICE K. NEAL-VINCENT

Bee Donley charmed the Mississippi Department of Archives and History’s History is Lunch series’ attendees with her original poetry and fond memories of teaching in Mississippi classrooms May 10.

The 93-year-old retiree began her teaching career 57 years ago in the Delta. She taught at Murrah High School during the fall of 1964 and remained there until January 1970. From January 1970 to May 1970 she taught at Brinkley High School. From 1971 to 1973 Donley taught at Jackson Prep. She moved from Jackson Prep in 1973 and started teaching at St. Andrews from 1973 to 1998. She even taught English and history mostly at night through the University of Mississippi, based at the R & D Center.

The vibrant presenter created a friendly, homelike atmosphere as she discussed several phases of her teaching career. “I did some teaching in the Delta back in 1950. The next time I taught, my husband was in Korea and I was staying with my parents until he returned. After he died was when I decided that teaching was what I wanted to do,” she stated firmly.

“Every place I taught was wonderful. The girls could imitate me. While teaching Shakespeare at Murrah, I had a writer to come. She had her cigarette and I told her she could have a glass of water when talking to the students, but she had to put the cigarette out. So she dramatized what she said as she flounced around the room in her wide skirt,” noted Donley. “Under Principal Sutton’s administration Brinkley became a tenth grade center. It was a terrible thing to do to those students who were going to the 10th and 11th grades,” she added.

The teacher expressed, “I didn’t like Jackson Prep much to begin with. But St. Andrews was the only school listed among the best schools in the nation. St. Andrews was adding a 12th grade and they asked me to come.” Donley referenced her observations of learning materials. “When I was teaching, I thought the students needed more textbooks. I moved beyond their grade levels and fused in college textbooks to challenge their minds,” she said proudly. “Good teachers,” noted Donley, “must know their material, be able to transmit their messages, and be in control.”

The sharp thinker demonstrated the mastery of these essentials while reflecting on her teaching years as well as while sharing poems from the three books that she wrote since her retirement. Mostly Ghosts presents portrayals of loves and losses while growing up in Mississippi. Mostly Mississippi: The Long Listening provides intimate images of growing up in Mississippi. Mostly Today shares humorous and poignant aspects of life in a retirement community. All three books can be purchased at Lumeria Bookstore.

The teacher – turned poet – explained, “I didn’t have time to write while teaching. I started writing after I stopped teaching. Donley isn’t currently writing. She mentioned, however, that if she had the opportunity to write today, she would write about community, family and race.

A number of Donley’s students attended the session. Several were interviewed. Michelle Hudson contended, “It was a joy to come to class every day. We were a group of seniors who couldn’t wait to hear her read passages of Macbeth. She was interesting, encouraging and always looked so pretty.”

Joy Parikh compared Donley’s presentation at MDAH to that of yesterday: “She was my literature teacher. Her style has not changed. It was like being transported back to the classroom – unflappable.”

Retiree Lee Donley, accompanied by MADAH historian Clinton Bagley, shares teaching and poetry experiences from her books.

Retiree Lee Donley, accompanied by MADAH historian Clinton Bagley, shares teaching and poetry experiences from her books.