By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer
BEREA — Scroll to the bottom of the story to read "Love for Lambert: Berea graduates share memories of their teacher," as well as a list of other Berea retirees this year.
Writer’s Note: Brenda Lambert is the reason I write articles today (Class of 2000).
Years ago, a little blonde-haired girl from Rockcastle County gathered her friends to “play school” in a 10-by-10 foot playhouse her father built.
Even at 12 years old, Brenda Lambert knew she wanted to be a teacher one day.
“I always felt like an old person trapped in a young person's body,” said Lambert, who is retiring after 43 years of service to Berea Community School.
“The desire to teach was innate,” she said. “I've always looked at situations and thought ‘Well what can we learn from that?’”
Retiring along with the Class of 2012 was not completely happenstance. Since her granddaughter, Sahara Gentry, was old enough to attend school, Lambert had always said she would retire when Sahara graduated.
"But I would teach for another 10 years if I didn't have to grade papers so much," said Lambert, who recently graded papers on a 10-hour drive to Virginia Beach for her niece's wedding and then during the 10 hours back.
Retirement means not getting up early every morning, she said, and not having to balance grading with home life and family. She took home 100 short stories to grade during Christmas break, she said.
Ironically, reading such stories have been one of her "greatest joys over the years," said Lambert, whose students share their personal stories with her through their writing. "It's like they're showing me an X-ray of their heart."
Some have even shared things she wished they hadn't, she joked.
"At the same time, that speaks to me. These students trust me to be confidential, to really listen to them and to validate them," Lambert said.
Lambert believes teaching is not just a job, but a lifestyle of which the foundational requirement is a love for children.
Although testing and academic accountability is essential, she said, nurturing children and addressing their intrinsic needs are just as important.
Lambert, perhaps, learned this lesson best from her own teachers at Berea City School (also known as "Fruit Jar High"), where she graduated in 1964.
She "blossomed as a student and as a person," she said, because of the guidance of her high school teacher and mentor Mabel Todd. Todd pushed Lambert to excel in English and French studies, as well as explore her musicality by accompanying the school’s glee club on the piano.
These are skills she carries to this day, she said, as choir director and pianist at her church.
Lambert went on to major in English and minor in French at Eastern Kentucky University. She completed her student teaching at Model Laboratory School and began work on her master's degree the summer after receiving her bachelor’s.
While teaching a freshman English course at EKU and before she completed her master’s, she was hired by Rockcastle County Schools.
However, Berea's superintendent in 1969, Litton Singleton, called Lambert "while the ink was still wet" on her degree and asked that she work at Berea. She was released from her contract from Rockcastle and began teaching at the newly opened Berea Independent School at the age of 22.
Lambert came to teach alongside some of her own high school teachers. Many of her relatives graduated from BCHS as well: Brothers Ken Holt (1970) and Wendell Holt (1973); son Sean Gentry (1989); nephews Michael Holt (1999) and Tyler Holt (2004); niece Jennifer Holt (2002); and granddaughter Sahara Gentry (2012).
Lambert remembers the first time she walked into the new Berea school, known for its circular design.
"I came home and told my mom, 'I'll never find my way around there,'" she recalled.
The building's openness and circular design became her favorite features of her beloved school, said Lambert. She has spoken to many alumni who believed that atmosphere prepared them to work and study in any environment.
For more than 30 years, Lambert's classroom was located in one of the circles' balconies, from where students could view many of the rooms downstairs. Lambert recalls floating checks down to her son, Sean Gentry, in the classroom below her’s when he was a student there.
Her cell phone number is written on the chalk board because she encourages her students to “text or call her anytime,” she said. Her secret chocolate candy stash is hidden away in one of the many cabinets and drawers that divides the balcony into two classrooms.
Although her room is lined with rows of brand new touch-screen Dell computers and a new Smart Board multimedia projector, the shelves of worn, classic books are permanent fixtures in the room. The old newspaper light board is piled with student portfolios and copies of Lambert's many homework assignments.
Her homework “contract” system became her trademark, which earned her recognition in teachers’ magazines. In this system, students are given an outline of the quality of work that will earn them an A, B, or C during a nine-week period. Students must then choose the option to which they will commit.
During her 43 years as a teacher, Lambert was a cheerleading coach and academic team sponsor. She revived the student newspaper, The Pirate, in 1973 and has been an active member of school's Site-Based Decision-Making Council as a representative for her colleagues and students.
"The fabric of a teacher's life is very complex because you are serving in so many roles," said Lambert. She feels as if she's been a mother, an educator, a counselor and an advocate during her career, which she describes as being a "series of Kodak moments."
"There's just something about Mrs. Lambert that distinguishes her from other teachers," said Jennifer Prather, a 2001 graduate. "She wasn't just a teacher, she was a mentor and a friend. She was such a classy lady."
Prather is now the legislative director for Congressman Ben Chandler, and attributes much of her success to the academic foundation she received while a student of Lambert’s.
Teaching her how to write was one of the greatest gifts Lambert gave her, said Prather, a skill that helped her all through college and when finding a job. (See side bar for stories of other students whose lives were touched by Lambert).
Lambert leaves young teachers with a bit of advice: "Pick your battles — you don't want to be contentious about everything. No matter what is going on politically or with the administration, be sure to carve out a positive learning environment for your students."
Crystal Wylie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 623-1669, ext. 6696.
More Berea retirees:
• Sally Robinson, 33 years, taught high school Government, Economics, U.S. History and Advanced Placement U.S. History.
• Evan Smith, 27 years, taught Music and served as Berea’s band director.
• Linda Taylor, 34 years, elementary teacher and GEAR UP Coordinator.
• Jasper “Jay” Dunaway, 10 years, served as maintenance facilities manager.
• Jan Wagers, 15 years, worked in food service.
• Anita Stanley, 20 years, worked as an instructional aide.
• Nancy Taylor, 26 1/2 years, worked as a bus driver.
• Hilda Rose, 20 years, served as a custodian.
Love for Lambert: Berea graduates share memories of their teacher
"I have had the pleasure of getting to know Mrs. Lambert both inside school and out. For the last year of middle school and my first year of high school my mother and I rented a house from her mother. She and I became good friends and she was always there for me to talk to about anything life threw at me. She was there for me when my mom passed away — something that never changed the remaining time I attended Berea. She even came to my house the night of graduation to tell me how proud she was about all I had accomplished. There were many teachers that influenced me during high school but she was the only one I felt that I could consider my family." - Sarah Michelle Harris-Pack, Class of 2001
"I always thought she pushed us to better ourselves and never gave up on us. I remember one time Jennifer Holt (her niece) had a party at Mrs. Lambert's house and several of us girls went over there and broke her couch by goofing off. We all thought we were in major trouble. But, she was as patient that day as she was everyday in class. I can say now, looking back, that she was one of those teachers that definitely earned respect by giving respect. Mrs. Lambert, in my opinion, was a wonderful asset to Berea Community High School and will always be one of my past teachers that I respect the most." - Chrissy Cash, Class of 2002
“Thanks to Mrs. Lambert and her red ink pen, I have grown to become a proficient writer! Thank you, Mrs. L!!!” - Heather-Anne Cotter Simpson, Class of 1992
"Endless, merciless re-writes! She made us all better writers, and she sugar-coated nothing. Due to the state mandates (in the 1990s) regarding language arts instruction we missed out on a lot of literature education, but she did her very best to send us to college with at least SOME exposure. With her and Evan Smith retiring, the school is losing two terrific teachers." - Rhonda Lawson Grieser, Class of 1993
“I went to school and had Brenda (Gentry) Lambert as one of my instructors, as well as a mentor throughout my high school years. She is a fantastic, caring, teacher with so much to give. She has made me want to continue writing — personally and professionally and I think of her often. The future students that will not gain from her knowledge as an instructor or as a friend will sorely be at a loss." - Pamela Davis McCormick, Class of 1975
“The information I learned during my time working on The Pirate with Mrs. Lambert really helped ignite a passion for writing and communication that later led me to my chosen field of public relations. I still use the skills that she taught us on a daily basis. It’s exciting — and bittersweet — to hear that she’s retiring because I can still remember the day when she told our class she was going to teach for at least another 10 years, which to a bunch of 18-year-olds seemed like forever!” - Sarah Newman, Class of 2000
“She was the greatest teacher and had the biggest influence on my education. I have friends who still quote her writing and grammar rules to this day!” - Erin Ross Knight, Class of 1994
“I had Mrs. Lambert for English at a time when I had given up on school and was making straight F's. She kept me after class, asked me why I was doing that and convinced me that I was smart enough and helped me get my grades back up. I'll never forget her because she was the only teacher in high school that didn't give up on me when I had given up on myself!” - Andy Caldwell, Class of 1974
“She was very kind and encouraging. She also was beautiful.” - Elaine Hatton Correnti, Class of 1972
“She always expected everyone to give their best effort, while being kind. She never raised her voice but we just knew we were not supposed to even think about goofing off in class. A true example of earning respect by treating everyone with respect.” - Barb VanWinkle Mills, Class of 1976
“Brenda was my teacher from 1970-1974. I had her for several classes, but her speech class is one I will always remember. We were doing demonstrations in for her speech class when I met my future husband, Gary. It wasn't too long after the demonstration that we started dating. In June, we will have been married 34 years. It all started in Brenda's class! Our daughter Kelly, also had Brenda as an English teacher too.” - Linda Taylor, Class of 1974
“Of all my teachers, she was at the top of my list! I still enjoy seeing her. She always greets me with a smile and takes the time for a good chat. Wishing her very many wonderful and well deserved years of retirement.” - Debbie Stringfield, Class of 1974
“Since I can remember her life has revolved around school and her students. I for sure hit the ‘mom lottery.’” - Sean Gentry (her son), Class of 1989