Melanie Combs - a career driven by a love for children

Griffith Elementary School’s Melanie Combs has just completed her 25th year in the teaching profession — all of them at Griffith and 24 teaching kindergarten. A Sequatchie County native, Combs completed her bachelor’s degree in Christian education at Wesley College in Florence, Mississippi, and headed back home.

“I have lived here all my life except when I was in college, and I wanted to give back to my home community — to help improve the lives of the people here: my friends and neighbors and family,” said Combs. “My first job was at a daycare, and I loved the work so much I decided to go back and get my master’s degree and teacher certification in early childhood education at Tennessee Tech. When I completed my master’s and applied for a job here at Griffith Elementary, there were two openings, one for kindergarten and one in first grade. I was offered and accepted the first-grade position and was grateful to have a job. I enjoyed that year, but kindergarten is really my calling, so when I was given the opportunity to move to kindergarten, I happily took it and have been here ever since.

“I have always loved little children. At church, when I was growing up, I was always the one taking care of or reading to the little children. It was something I enjoyed doing. It still is. The time spent as an undergraduate and earning my master’s degree was not just about getting a job — I loved learning how to teach and how to become a better teacher. And teaching is not just a job for me; it is something I enjoy. I feel like it is a calling — that God put a love for children in my heart. Even though my own son is grown, I’m still the one sitting in the back of the church with the children.

“Teaching kindergarten has changed a lot in 25 years. Back then — before children went to preschool — we focused more on social skills like how to get along with others and behave in the structured setting of the classroom. We played, and while we played, they were developing fine motor skills — the ones needed to hold a pencil. They were also learning problem-solving skills. It was all about preparing children to succeed in mastering the skills they would be learning in first grade — reading writing, math and interacting with other children their age and with the adults around them. Today, there is a lot of pressure to have children reading and writing by the time they finish kindergarten. Some children are ready and even ahead of their grade level, but children who have not been to preschool and have not been read to or had much social interaction with other people need a lot more attention in kindergarten to get them up to speed with those who have had more experiences and exposure to books and verbal communication with other people. Some children need more love and attention from their teachers to be successful learners. There are many children in our area who are moved around a lot and don’t have much stability in their life. For these children, coming to school is their ‘safe’ place where they can depend upon people to look after them and give them some attention and, often, a place to have a good, nourishing meal.

“Young teachers today need to understand that they are in the classroom to do more than teach reading and math and produce high test scores. They are here to develop the next generation into capable, caring, responsible people. It is a big job, and if you don’t learn to balance it all, it can be very stressful.

“Here at Griffith Elementary, we have such a good, loving community, one that is seeing that all of the needs of the children are being met. I am honored to be recognized with this award but humbled because I know so many wonderful, caring teachers in our community who deserve to be recognized,” concluded Combs.