(photo caption 1: Amidon-Bowen Second Grade Teacher Beverly Worthington
photo caption 2: Worthington stands with some of her second grade students
photos courtesy of Beverly Worthington.)
This article is part of a series of profiles of teachers and staff at Amidon-Bowen.
Dressed like a corporate executive with an actor’s charisma and a minister’s gravitas, Beverly Worthington strides to the front of her classroom, the eyes of every second grade student trained on her as they repeat her morning mantra.
“Respect, responsibility, ready to learn!” Seventeen voices rise in chorus. Thus begins a rigorous language arts lesson at Amidon-Bowen Elementary School, where Worthington has taught since 2008.
“I need a helper,” Worthington says, and nearly every student raises a hand. She chooses a boy to run the class through an exercise in phonics. When she asks the class what defines a “trick” word, twelve hands shoot into the air. The question answered correctly, she moves on.
“How do you remember trick words?” she asks. “How do you learn them?” She calls on a student seated at a cluster of desks to her left.
“You need to practice!” he says. Worthington nods and smiles.
“He said something, and it’s not a trick!” she emphasizes meaningfully. “You need to practice. That’s how we learn anything.”
Her compassionate rapport with her class is a study in mutual respect. Her students sit attentively in their chairs. They wave their hands in eager anticipation when she asks a question to which they know the answer. Like a college professor, Worthington scans the room and cold calls a student sitting quietly and trying to avoid eye contact.
“I want someone who hasn’t raised their hand,” she says, as the raised hands sink. “Let’s cross our fingers so he gets it right.” Worthington is spry and enthusiastic, deftly encouraging teamwork and a sense of mutual investment among his classmates as she coaxes the student to the correct answer, helping him work through the logic. When one student stumbles and gets the answer to a grammar challenge wrong, Worthington’s demeanor does not change.
“It’s okay to make a mistake,” Worthington says. “That’s how we learn – from our mistakes.” As she explains the correct answer, she praises her pupil’s attentiveness, finding yet another way to engage and encourage the student, and make a positive example of her for the others, even in the face of a small setback.
“Next time she will get it right, because she is watching,” Worthington tells the class. But the incorrect answers are few, and Worthington is proud of the obvious level of comprehension in the room. She takes every opportunity to weave deeper meaning into the day’s lesson.
“I’m big on education,” she says, “but I’m bigger on character. It’s everything about you. It is who you are.” Worthington’s work ethic stands as a foil to those who believe that teachers enjoy a lighter work load. She often stays in her classroom until 7 or 8 o’clock in the evening, planning the next day’s lesson and reflecting upon how best to reach students who might not have fully grasped the previous day’s concepts. She reads voraciously, pouring over literature about best practices in teaching.
“Ms. Worthington is one of the most dedicated and conscientious employees we have,” says Amidon-Bowen Principal, Izabela Miller. “Every child matters to her, the school matters to her, and she is prepared for every minute of every day.”
Raised on the eastern shore of Delaware, Worthington’s family moved to DC when she was nine years old. She was brought up in a home that she says emphasized “faith, love, and Christian values,” with two parents whose top priority was education. Her father honorably served in the U.S. Marine Corps, eventually becoming a successful business owner of Junior Mode Shoes and Dance of Maryland, and was also a gifted pianist. Her mother worked in DC Public Schools, and instilled Worthington with a deep passion for helping others.
Worthington graduated from Ballou Senior High School in Southeast DC and went on to graduate from the University of the District of Columbia. After eight years working as a secretary for the Department of the Interior—during which time Worthington and her late husband, Ralph, raised two children, a daughter, Ralphia, who now works as a registered nurse, and a son, Marcellus, an IT System Administrator for Homeland Security—Worthington returned to UDC to complete her teaching degree.
In her 27 years in the classroom, 21 of which were spent at the Lucy Diggs Slowe Elementary School in Northeast DC, Worthington has taught every elementary school grade.
“I go where I am needed,” she says. In that time, she has touched her students in many ways. One year, a student’s mother came to her upset that she was not able to afford a proper suit for her son for the next day’s promotion ceremony. Later that night, Worthington called the mother.
“I said, ‘I have a size 14 suit, a shirt, a tie, and shoes. Everything but the socks and underwear.’ The mother was speechless, and the next day I saw her face as she watched her child move up a grade. She’d never had the opportunity to buy him a suit, and she was so proud and moved.”
Then there are the parents who have decided to return to school, inspired by the faith Worthington has shown in their abilities and their children’s. There are families she has held together by quietly giving food to children whose parents could not provide for them. And countless students run up to her on the playground as they head home from junior high school and eagerly show her their grades and tell her their plans for high school. She has touched them all, and she knows it.
“My first year of teaching I didn’t want to let them go,” she says, smiling at the recollection. “I was so invested in those students. But as time went on, I saw that the butterflies fly away, and that is ok.”
As for Amidon-Bowen, the school has transformed dramatically since Worthington joined the faculty.
“There have been beautiful changes here between 2008 and now,” says Worthington. “The principal is behind us. The staff here is willing to go beyond the call of duty to do what’s right for the children.”
In a school that, until recently, has struggled to recruit and keep highly effective teachers, Worthington stands out as an example of elementary school teaching at its finest.
“She figures out each child individually,” says Principal Miller. “She is a teacher to the core.”
By: Lucy Rojansky