Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Sybil Anderson discusses a project with her fourth-grade students at Harbins Elementary School prior to the winter break. Anderson has been a teacher for more than 50 years.
DACULA -- Having to wait until she was 19 to teach was the hardest thing Sybil Anderson ever had to do.
At the age of 5, she was lecturing stuffed animals and dolls, itching to instill the gift of knowledge. Anderson said she "just couldn't wait" to get a classroom of her own.
That ingrained drive to teach has kept her going strong ever since her inaugural job in South Georgia, when she got her very first group of elementary school students.
"I just love coming to school," said Anderson during a recent interview in her classroom at Harbins Elementary. "I love listening, learning and hearing all the new things and trying to apply those for my students ... and I love seeing the students stretch. I love seeing them grow, seeing them go beyond their limits, that's what makes teaching exciting."
Having recently turned 70 years old, it's a maxim that's held true since the start, more than 50 years ago.
Principal Cindy Truett said Anderson may have a few decades under her belt, but that doesn't keep her from running circles around even the newest, most youthful teachers at Harbins Elementary.
"She's just like a brand-new teacher," Truett said. "The fire, the energy, the enthusiasm ... she's one of the most engaging and inspirational teachers I've met in my 30 years."
Added Truett: "Every day, she's the first one here, and the last to leave."
Anderson said she just can't help herself.
"Seeing the children light up, it sort of feeds me," Anderson said. "Seeing them experience something for the first time, that makes it very special to me."
Her teaching methods allow for new experiences, she said.
For instance, twice a year her students participate in a holiday or historical theatrical production. This lets her fourth-graders "apply what they learn."
"I think when they do hands-on things they remember it better. It connects. It's the integration of subject matter in all directions, and it brings the books alive for them."
The fourth-grade children's play is performed on a handmade stage of wood, surrounded by papier-mache props and adorned with colorful quilts all stitched and built with Anderson's own two hands.
She said what's interesting about the plays is "some of the kids who will end up being the best in the play are not always the ones who are the best students in the classroom. It helps them take ownership of themselves, and I think that's very valuable to them."
Added Anderson: "When you teach like I teach you are able to find the best qualities of each student, and each of them can find their niche. It helps that person come alive, and they become more excited and have a desire to be there in the classroom."
No arguments from her students. Wes Foster, 9, said it's never a dull moment in Anderson's classroom. "She's really nice, and she's quite a good teacher. I'm very impressed with her," Foster said.
Added the fourth-grader: "She lets us square dance, too."
Truett said keeping the kids entertained while challenging their minds is one of Anderson's many valuable talents.
"She's got a big toolbox," Truett said. "She has lots of experiences and lots of strategies to draw from. Her students just soar. They achieve at higher levels, because she's got them so engaged. She expects their best, because she gives them her best everyday. She works so hard to make sure she does that."
Anderson said it's hardly work if you enjoy it.
"It's what's kept me happy," Anderson said, from the beginning of her career in South Georgia, to Fort Worth, Texas, a stint substitute teaching and the continuance of her career in middle Georgia. And for the past 15 years at Harbins Elementary.
"Listen to this, you're going to think this is crazy," said Anderson, leaning in with a smile.
"The late summer is my favorite time of year. It's when they put all the stuff out at the department stores," Anderson said. "I just love walking down the aisles and looking at the stuff: the paper and pencils and all the new gear they have on the market. It gets me all excited about coming to school."
Will Anderson ever grow tired of it?
"No way," she said, laughing. "I'm having a very hard time deciding to retire. I don't know if I ever will."