Heather Evans saw a familiar face as she walked toward Smiddy Hall on her first day of work as a political science professor at UVA Wise.
It had been nearly 20 years since Evans sat in Donna Hale’s classroom at Council High, a small Buchanan County school with a tight-knit group of strong teachers and a student body fully involved in academic competitions and extracurricular activities. Evans gave the woman walking down the sidewalk a second look just to be sure.
“Miss Donna,” Evans said. “Miss Donna!”
After a hug or two and a selfie, Hale and Evans had a brief moment to reconnect before getting back to Faculty Workshop events. Hale introduced her to faculty as “my Heather” for the rest of the day.
Evans’ mother had already informed Hale that her daughter would be working at UVA Wise, but Evans was not sure she would run into Hale. The former high school teacher, who is an adjunct professor, and her former student, the John Morton Beaty Endowed Chair, have offices on the first floor of Smiddy Hall. They are now colleagues, and both feel a certain bit of nostalgia for the past and some excitement for what their new relationship as coworkers will mean for both of them and for UVA Wise.
Hale is undeniably proud of Evans. Evans has no doubts about claiming Hale as her favorite high school teacher. It is obvious the bond between the two women is still strong.
“She was awesome,” Evans said. “I was on the Mock Trial team and she was in charge. I would say she was my favorite teacher, not to talk smack about the others.”
Hale had a daily current events quiz in the advanced level high school classes she taught at Council High. Evans said current events were a priority for Miss Donna because she wanted her students to know what was going on in the world. Evans shares that priority. Evans said the lessons she learned when Hale sat at the big desk had a big influence on her and what would later become her own teaching methods.
Evans attended Berea College and soon discovered that the things she learned in her first political science class were same things Hale had taught in her high school classes.
“I had no idea what political science was,” she said. “I had just known it as government at Council High. I just knew that I loved it. Donna helped set my path for me a little bit. When I took that college political science class, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.”
Evans does not give current events quizzes in her classes, but she does place an emphasis on current events..
“She always got very excited for her students when they did well,” Evans said. “If we were at a competition for academics or sports, she always wanted to recognize us for our hard work. That is the type of teaching I wanted to do.”
Evans taught at Sam Houston State University, which had an enrollment of 21,000 students. Her colleagues were stunned when she wanted to have her class over to dinner to recognize their hard work. Her fellow faculty informed her that was not the way it was done.
“They didn’t really get to know their students, but teachers like Donna got to know her students and their families,” Evans said.
Berea has about the same enrollment as UVA Wise so Evans said it was like coming home when she arrived in Wise. She had even been in Governor’s School at UVA Wise one summer when she was in high school.
“This fits me because it’s what I came from,” she said.
Back in her office in Smiddy Hall, Hale grabbed a copy of the Council High yearbook and quickly pointed out Heather and listed all her activities.
“Council was a small school but it had many opportunities for students,” Hale said. “Heather was involved in a lot of activities. Heather and the others had an opportunity to be leaders.”
Hale said Evans was interested in many different things, especially Mock Trial, a rigorous program that required hard work and quick thinking. Evans excelled, Hale said.
Hale got teary eyed when told that Evans modeled her teaching after her former high school teacher.
“Students like Heather make it all worthwhile,” Hale said. “She was always interested in everything, and I think all of that helped make her what she is today. I didn’t talk to my students, but I talked with them, and that made a difference. I think that’s what Heather does with her students because I have had them come to me and say they like her class. The best teachers I’ve had talked with me, and I’m sure that is what Heather is doing.”
When asked if a particular memory stands out, both Evans and Hale separately recalled the same one. One day Hale told her high school students that the myth of George Washington chopping down a cherry tree was not true. Heather went straight home and told her second grade brother that Miss Donna said what his teacher told him about George Washington was not true at all. Hale took some grief from the teacher at the elementary school, but now she just laughs about it.
“Our history doesn’t need to be embellished,” Hale said. “Our history, good and bad, needs to be taught truthfully.”
Evans and Hale have a rich history together, and both will cherish their old relationship as they make new memories together as colleagues.