PALMETTO -- Manatee County first grade teacher Linda Barber will be retiring at the end of this year with what could be a unique legacy.
She has spent her entire 31-year career at the same school, Palm View Elementary School in Palmetto.
"I have been very fortunate to be able to remain at Palm View my entire career as a certified teacher, doing many different things," Barber, 58, said recently while her first-grade class was at recess. "I started as a kindergarten teacher, then a transitional first-grade teacher, then I was the school's Accelerated Literacy Learning teacher. I have also been a reading coach and, now first- grade teacher."
Manatee County School District spokeswoman Margi Nanney believes if Barber isn't the only elementary school teacher with 30-plus years at one school, she's in a very select company.
"We don't have records on this, but Mrs. Barber may be the only one who has done this," Nanney said.
Some say teachers are born, not made, and Barber may be such an example.
At age 6, while growing up in Massachusetts, Barber ran her own little classroom in the basement of the family home in Brookville.
"My dad was able to obtain six desks and a moveable chalkboard," Barber said recently. "I had all the neighborhood kids down there, including my brother and sister and stuffed animals."
Barber would teach them anything she could think of teaching, imploring her "class," in a stern voice, "OK, now you all sit down and listen to me."
While she had a passion for teaching from an early age, it took a special teacher to spur her on.
"I think what made me a teacher was that when I was in kindergarten I was very small, and my kindergarten teacher would carry me around," Barber said, with a laugh. "I loved her. She inspired me."
That teacher and Barber's parents decided to keep her in kindergarten an extra year. It was a decision that Barber
has never forgotten.
"Each child is different and grows and develops when they are ready," Barber says. "Thanks to an insightful kindergarten teacher and wonderful parents, I bloomed. I believe that with patience, time and proper instructional guidance, every kid can get there."
Barber's father is the Rev. Roy Bruce of Cortez Road Baptist Church.
"We always knew she would be a teacher," Pastor Bruce said.
She's a Manatee High grad
Barber's family moved to Florida from near Boston when she was 16, and she graduated from Manatee High School. She was then Linda Bruce. She is best known in the county as Linda Byers, however.
She married Steve Byers but lost him when he died in a motorcycle accident in January 2001. She married Byers' best friend, Boyd Barber, eight years ago.
"There are two things I remember about my first year," Barber said, recalling August of 1981. "First, I remember the school was very tiny, just a few rooms, nothing like it is today. And when the principal, Bob Doyle, called me in for an interview, he said, 'Byers, do you want this job?' I said, 'Well, I would like to come in and talk to you. But I have a baby with me right now.' He said, 'That's OK, bring him along.' Mr. Doyle was wonderful."
The second thing Barber remembers after being hired as a kindergarten teacher is how literal a 5-year-old can be.
"It's very stressful to make sure they all get to the right place to go home, so I had them in little groups," Barber said. "I had car riders in one group and bus riders in another group. But one little boy didn't get into a group. I said, 'How do you go home?' He said, 'I ride a truck.'"
Barber was Palm View's Accelerated Literacy Learning teacher, also known as an ALL teacher, for six years.
Those years, until the funding ran out, were some of the most rewarding of her career, she said.
"I had an office, not a class," Barber said. "I worked one-on-one with kids for 30 minutes a day on their reading. It was a wonderful program. We would start by testing them and determine which students would benefit the most from one-on-one. We would do word-work and then read a book they had read. I would do a running record on their progress. I determined by listening to them where I needed to teach."
Because of the cost, the program has been mostly phased out in the county, Barber said.
"If I had the power, I would bring the ALL program back," Barber said.
She's still a dynamo
If you spend a day in Barber's current first- grade class you may marvel at all the little secret things she does to keep developing minds on task, tricks of the trade if you will.
Like recently when she realized Diego Ramos, Tryston Thomas, Marc Jimenez, Broderick Belvin, Willianh Bui, Brian Corona-Ochoa, Mannaure Cruz, Xharia Gavin, Jaxon Ivester, Johnathan Sosa, Zoe McDuffie, Jakobe Murrell, Makayla Oxendine, Nathanial Curvas and Karina Guadalupe all needed to "get the wiggles out."
"Stand up, jump, shake," the diminutive blonde-haired Barber yelled. "Hands up high, hands down low. Shake, shake, shake. OK, now we have the wiggles out."
When teaching them at their desks lost its effectiveness later on, she called all 15 up to the front of the room to kneel on her blue "letter carpet." She then calmly continued her writing lesson.
Barber never lost her cool. She just mentally double-clicked a new strategy and moved on.
"People ask me how things are different now from 30 years ago," Barber said during a break. "This is how I would put it. Curriculum has changed. Testing has changed. Standards have changed. But a 6-year-old is still a 6-year-old. I do my best to teach the common core material, but I believe a child is going to develop when they are ready to develop. I can do my best. You can sprinkle a flower, but you can't make it grow until it is ready. Kids will be developmentally ready when they are ready."
Barber gets a bit choked up when talking about retiring.
"I love kids," Barber said. "I have always loved kids. Every day is so unique with them. They always do something to cheer you up. I remember one day I had taken off my shoes and the next thing I know two of my first-grade girls had them on and were walking around in them."
Barber has left a unique legacy, 30 years at the same school or not, said Frank Pistella, her principal at Palm View for six years and now principal at Kinnan Elementary.
"When I think of Linda Barber, the first thing that comes to mind is her love for students and her love for reading," Pistella said. "I was also impressed that she never quit wanting to improve herself.
"You know," Pistella added. "Veteran teachers get a bad rap. People think they get burned out. Linda Barber never burned out. She's still on fire."