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Jill Burton

Ending on a High-Note

By Barry Engelhardt

“It’s the family atmosphere
that makes Meridian unique.”

Jill Burton shares that a conversation between friends first drew her to teaching at Meridian. It was three years ago, and she’d just retired from teaching in Charleston but wasn’t sure she was ready to live the retired life. Her friend and former Meridian teacher, Lisa Harris, suggested she ‘come over.’ To Meridian.

“I thought I could try it, and if it doesn’t work out after one year, I’ll stop,” says Jill. She quickly adds, “And it just kept going. It keeps me involved with the kids. I want to end on a high note.”

Jill is now in her third year at Meridian High School, but overall, this marks her fortieth year in education. Semiretired, she teaches first through fourth hour and finishes her workday just as the students go to lunch. She instructs a mixture of ninth through twelfth graders in American History, Current Events, and Psychology.

Throughout her four decades, she’s seen many changes in education, from shifting parent-teacher interactions to an increased focus on technology. She recognizes both positives and negatives but ultimately prioritizes the value of physically taking notes to connect the brain and body through the act of physically placing pen to paper.

Jill is a third-generation teacher. Her mother and her grandmother were both teachers before her. Jill and her brother both followed suit. After graduating from SEMO, Jill returned to Charleston to teach at the same high school where she’d recently graduated. She smiles and shares that it’s also the high school where her husband and children graduated. It was her only home until she chose to start anew in Meridian, a move she’s learned to cherish. “It’s very family-like here.

It’s the family atmosphere that makes Meridian unique. The administration is all very caring. They’re very concerned about the kids,” says Jill. She adds, “I want the kids to know when they come to my classroom; these are my expectations. You’re going to be safe here. Leave everything else outside.” Her goal for her students is simple – don’t just stay put. Whether they become teachers, go to tech school or SEMO, join the service, or simply go out and meet new people, she hopes they experience the world. Many, she suggests, will return, figuratively or literally, and share the knowledge and experiences they’ve gained by pushing forward.

“I’ve had former students come in and go, hey, I’m doing this; I’m making more money than you now. I replied, ‘That’s the point.’ That was the point in me doing what I do. If you don’t want to be a teacher, you go on and do what you need to do,” says Jill. But with a mischievous grin, she adds that in her final year at Charleston, her boss was a former student.

“He’s a superintendent now,” says Jill as she smiles widely. Her pride in his journey is obvious. And I think to myself that even if she’s still winding down, that sounds like ending on a high note to me.

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