Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

'Absolutely Loved' Teacher Retires after 4 Decades; Gail Thurmond Last Taught at Mamie Agnes Jones, Doling out Lots of Treats

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

'Absolutely Loved' Teacher Retires after 4 Decades; Gail Thurmond Last Taught at Mamie Agnes Jones, Doling out Lots of Treats

Article excerpt

Byline: SANDY STRICKLAND

From pajama reading parties to outdoor science walks to using M&Ms to teach counting, Gail Thurmond made learning fun.

She brought baskets of muffins and powdered doughnuts to her students in the mornings. She used art as a teaching tool and even bought special clocks at a garage sale to teach them to tell time.

But after 41 years in classrooms across Duval County, Thurmond no longer will heed the clock's call when school resumes in August. Thurmond, whose last assignment was teaching second grade at Mamie Agnes Jones Elementary School in Baldwin, has retired.

"The children absolutely loved her," said Skip Hatcher, the school's principal. "We had one student who's now in 10th grade who wanted to know if she could be moved from grade to grade. She cared about the kids and was always bringing treats and buying them things, including shoes if they needed them. She used a lot of innovative techniques."

The Jacksonville native graduated from Andrew Jackson High School and majored in English at Tift College in Forsyth, Ga. After earning her degree, Thurmond decided she didn't want to teach English. So she went to work as a Camp Fire Girls director in Atlanta but got homesick, returned to Jacksonville and took a job teaching first grade at Windy Hill Elementary School on the Southside.

That's all it took. She was hooked.

"I really enjoyed the children," said Thurmond, who had to take extra courses to earn her certification in elementary education. "They are precious really. It was just great teaching and seeing success."

While teaching elementary school, she discovered an unexpected affinity for drawing and painting.

"I did a lot of drawing with them and learned I could draw," said Thurmond. "That was really gratifying. Maybe I should have been an art teacher."

Thurmond came to Mamie Agnes Jones 21 years ago after teaching at Windy Hill and Holiday Hill on the Southside and Corinne Scott, North Shore and Oceanway on the Northside. She also taught at West Jacksonville and spent a year in Seattle helping friends start a church school.

For 12 years, she was at Riverside Presbyterian Day School on Oak Street where she honed her art skills and became known for hosting student slumber parties complete with dinner at McDonald's and a pancake breakfast. …

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