Being a teacher is something Jones said she always knew she wanted to do from the time she was a child.
“I just always enjoyed passing on what I had learned and seeing the excitement of others learning or figuring out something new,” said Jones. “I do feel God called me to teach. I get such a fulfillment from teaching.”
A graduate of nearby Princeton Senior High School, she chose Bluefield College to explore and nurture her passion, earning a degree in interdisciplinary studies with teacher licensure in 2008. While a student at BC, she was a member of the Student Virginia Education Association, Alpha Chi National Honor Society and Phi Delta Kappa, a premier professional association for educators. She was also a Virginia Collegium Scholar and named a Teacher of Promise.
“My experience at Bluefield College was wonderful,” said Jones. “I really think the BC Education Department is the best. It wasn’t just school; it was a family. They went above and beyond to prepare us for the classroom.”
Jones began her career part-time in 2009 as a tutor for Tazewell County Schools. A year later, she became a full-time reading instructor at Dudley Primary School. Three years later, she got her own classroom as a third grade teacher at Graham Intermediate School (GIS). And today, she is a fourth grade teacher at GIS, where in 2011 she started having pain in her back. After months of being told by doctors that nothing was wrong, Jones recalls, physicians eventually found a tumor wrapped around her sciatic nerve near her spinal cord. It was cancer.
Diagnosed in December 2011, she was forced out of the classroom she so loves to begin treatment. For nearly a year, February 2012 to January 2013, she endured four months of chemotherapy, which allowed surgeons to remove the tumor, two months of radiation, and another six months of additional chemo. Finally getting back in the classroom, she said, was exciting and emotional.
“It was wonderful to be back where I felt God wanted me,” said Jones. “My kids, parents, and co-workers made me feel so loved and welcome. The love and support I received was overwhelming and humbling. The support and prayers provided a much needed strength and gave me a boost when I needed it.”
Cancer free, Jones returned to the classroom in January 2013. She said she missed the lessons and the actual teaching, but more than anything the social interaction with her students, hearing about their day, talking about new movies, or discussing comic books.
“I don’t have children of my own, so my students are my children,” she said. “I love each one, even the ones that test my patience. I love teaching the academics and finding fun ways to do so, but one thing that the BC Education Department always talked about was wayside teaching, and I think that it can sometimes make a bigger difference than the academic success. Without that emotional and social support, some students would never pay attention to the academic part.”
But in 2015, just two years after returning to teaching, Jones received more devastating news. The cancer had returned, this time as a spot on her left lung. Finding it early in its growth, doctors were able to remove it, after which Jones had to undergo six months of chemotherapy treatments.
“The second diagnosis was crushing,” she said. “However, I learned so much from the first time around, I just thought there was something else I needed to do or learn. I truly believe God is in control and has a plan for me. My prayer is that I use my second shot to do what God wants me to do.”
And taking full advantage of her second chance is exactly what Jones is doing. In fact, as a result of her courageous battle with cancer, her remarkable return to the classroom, and above all the impact she has on her students, who now call her “a fighter” and “a hero,” Jones was recently named the 2016 Teacher of the Year for southwest Virginia and southern West Virginia. Dozens of teachers from secondary schools across the region were nominated for the prestigious award, sponsored by the Bluefield Daily Telegraph and Cole Chevrolet of Bluefield, West Virginia. Two Bluefield College grads, Jones and 2012 BC alumnus Ethan Lewis, another fourth grade teacher at Graham Intermediate School, were among the finalists for the honor, but Jones stood out as the most deserving.
“I feel very blessed,” she said about being selected Teacher of the Year. “I love teaching. I enjoy it. I truly feel that teaching is what I have been called to do. I cannot imagine doing anything else with my life.”
Cancer free and back in the classroom, hopefully for good this time, Jones said that not all days are easy as she continues to recover from the disease. She admitted that she sometimes gets nervous about “every little ache and pain” and the possibility of a reoccurrence. But, she added, she has “an amazing support system” in her family, friends and particularly her husband, Jamie, whom she said has been her “rock” with his optimism, encouragement and faith.
“Somehow, and I don’t understand it, but my battle with cancer and my overcoming it, has a purpose for God’s glory,” said Jones. “I might never realize what it is, but I know there is a reason. My prayer is that with my second chance at life I can make an impact in my students’ lives. I hope I can teach them to overcome their struggles and see God’s love in what I do.”