The funny thing about heroes is that they don’t always wear a uniform or rush into burning buildings. Sometimes heroes pass out crayons and preside over playtime. Sometimes heroes are the people who make an impression with a smile and an encouraging word.
Preschool teacher Pamela Ruff is celebrating her 25th anniversary at The Children’s Learning Center at Sam Jones United Methodist Church.
After getting married to her husband, Jerry, in 1979 and taking a five-year break from work, she received a call from school where her daughter attended school. They asked if she’d consider teaching and she accepted without hesitation.
It's a decision she cherishes to this day.
“I wanted to see what it was like working with young children because I knew I loved them and I enjoyed teaching and working with my own children so much,” said Ruff. “Now every morning when I get up I can’t wait to get to school. Every summer I can’t wait to get back. I know God called me to love and nurture and care for these children.”
When Ruff started she was the only pre-k teacher in the school, but before long she had the children going on field trips and putting on holiday musicals. The kids even participate in a graduation with little caps and gowns when they make the transition to kindergarten.
“There are so many things I love about what I do,” said Ruff. “I think why I love the school so much is that Judy Smith, the director, and Rev. Bill Burch give us teachers complete autonomy. We are allowed to create our own curriculum for the needs of our individual children. They support us 100 percent.”
With the freedom of being able to teach beyond the alphabet, Ruff teaches music, sign language, Spanish, science and math. Consequently, many of the children end up being able to read and understand concepts at a very early age. Parents often send letters about how much they love the school and how their children went on to be in Gateway and honors programs.
As far as private versus public school, Ruff feels there is a beneficial difference. The parents pay, but she believes it’s important for young children to participate in pre-k programs that offer such vast curriculum.
“The children get a serious heads up on education, learning alphabet, colors and reading, but this place lets them have so much fun they won’t realize they’re learning,” said Ruff. “I’d stand on my head if it meant these kids would have a fun and learn and be happy.”
Ruff has many wonderful memories of her time at Sam Jones, from runny noses and supportive parents, to crazy field trips and cotton candy fights.
“One year we had the police station send a car over so the kids could get in and look at it. I got in the back and the kids got upset because they thought I was going to jail. It was so sweet,” said Ruff. “I have a million memories, but having a child walk in that room and put [his] arms around my neck and tell me [he] love me means everything.”
In testament to Ruff’s lasting impact, over the past 25 years Ruff has had many of her students stay in touch with her, inviting her to high school and college graduations, weddings and even baby showers. Still other students have chosen to conduct student teaching programs in her preschool class and volunteering to help in the class in lieu of their own Spring Breaks.
“Personally, I don’t consider myself a hero,” said Ruff. “But if a child thinks so, even a grown child, then that makes me happy. I look at all these children like my grandchildren. This is my calling, not my job. I love it and know I’m in the right place.”