Dr. Debra Messenger-Smith and Dr. Dedrick Messenger, siblings from Bolivar, earned bachelor’s degrees in education from UT Martin in 1985 and 1990, respectively. Both have gone on to influence thousands of students over the courses of their careers, and both were honored by the Greater Nashville Alliance of Black School Educators this past spring.
Messenger-Smith, who retired June 28 after more than 30 years in the education field, was honored with the Principal of the Year Award, and Messenger was named Teacher of the Year.
“I decided to become a teacher because I had teachers (who) were caring and built relationships with me,” said Messenger-Smith. “Miss Melverta Scott, my first-grade teacher, was stern, strict, and made sure we were able to read, write, do math and get along with each other. She made school fun!” Messenger-Smith says she knew she wanted to follow in Scott’s footsteps as early as the first grade, and she became not only a teacher but a counselor, assistant principal, principal, executive school director and adjunct university professor along the way as well.
Dr. Dedrick Messenger found his calling a bit later in life when a UT Martin professor encouraged him to volunteer at Westview High School in Martin. He has since spent more than 24 years in the education field and served in three different school systems. Messenger teaches in the art classroom and wants to use this creative outlet to help his students see “they can be anything that they want to be,” he said. “There is no limit to their success. The winner is not always the one who wins the race.” In addition to the 2019 Teacher of the Year title for the Nashville area, Messenger also took home the 2018 Distinguished Educator Award from the Tennessee Education Association.
Messenger-Smith may have finished her formal career, but she intends to continue to assist principals and teachers throughout her district. She also offers words of wisdom to future teachers and those preparing to begin their careers in the coming year:
“Being a teacher is more than teaching academics. You must learn things about your student to build a relationship with each one of them,” she said. “Do not complain about what their guardians are doing; you do what you can do to make your classroom a fun, happy place. When you do this, you will be able to connect with your students socially, emotionally and academically. You will be the teacher they will always remember.”