Everyone at Sealy High School knows Gayle DeBerry.
Last year, she was the first line of defense in the front office and worked as a long-term substitute. All the kids stopped in to say hello, tell her a funny story or even cry with her when they were having a bad day.
She’s at every sporting event. She’s the “mama bear” to Austin, Parker and Jessica.
She’s quirky and fun and might surprise you with her intelligence.
“She’s so smart,” said Superintendent Sheryl Moore.
Maybe that’s why DeBerry studied all summer, got her teaching certificate and is now teaching science at the high school. She’ll teach earth and space science to freshmen and seniors, which, she says in a way that makes you forget she’s in her early 40s, “is really cool.”
“I love the periodic table, which is so nerdy,” she said. “It’s kinda fun. You’re talking volcanoes; you’re talking the atmosphere. We’re going from the core of the earth to the farthest part of the galaxy.”
The single mom – “Do not try to set me up,” she says – grew up as one of four kids playing sports, showing animals, acting in theater and serving as the school mascot at Wharton High School. She went to Texas Tech University and moved to a five-acre property in Sealy just a couple of years ago – even though it seems like she’s been here forever.
She’s passionate about her science classes and wants to make paper airplanes and volcanoes and take the kids to NASA.
“I kind of always wanted to be a teacher,” she said. “I can talk to anybody about anything. If they ask me real questions, I’m going to give them real answers. I also know how to draw the line between being a mom and being professional and somewhat of a role model.”
She honed some of those teaching skills as a stay-at-home mom and classroom volunteer for more than a decade and also worked as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. This new venture seems like a natural next step in her personal adventure.
“I’m excited for her,” said daughter Jessica.
Eighth-grader Austin told DeBerry’s family “she’s going to be great” as a teacher. He’s not the only one who thinks so.
The hard part for DeBerry, she says, will be separating herself from those casual, friendly interactions she had with the kids when she worked in the office.
“It’s different,” she said. “Anything’s scary when you’re a rookie. I need to relate and love and care, but I also need to teach. Truthfully after being here last year, there really are so many people here who care, and I’ve learned that even more in the past few days.”
She’s looking forward to new programs like “Drive Time,” where she’ll have the same group of students in her classroom for 30 minutes each day for a study hall-type session where she can do one-on-one tutoring with students based on their individual needs.
“A lot of it is about building relationships with the kids and connecting with them,” DeBerry said. “It does matter that I live here in Sealy and I do have kids of my own in the district. I’m sitting here thinking, ‘what do I want for my own kids?’ My kids have been amazing until they became teenagers; then they got attitudes and they smell.”
Jane Hoskins teaches math across the hall and will serve as a mentor to DeBerry.
“I absolutely adore her,” Hoskins said. “Everybody in the school loves her. When she was taking her test, she let me know in private that she was taking it, so we’ve all been pulling for her. She’s going to do great. The whole staff is thrilled that she’s here.”