Whenever Pepper Smith was a little girl, she dreamed of becoming a teacher. She would go with her aunt to her one-room schoolhouse in Collinsville, TX and write on the chalkboard and pretend she was the one in charge. She grew up and went on to graduate from Sam Houston Teachers College, making her dream a reality when she landed her first teaching job in 1970. She never knew that she would be living out her dream for the next 50 years.
“My husband was hired as the baseball coach in Dickinson, so I was able to come and get a job teaching there,” Smith said. “Then, when our children were born, we started to really think about where we wanted to live and what we wanted to do. Larry had investigated the school system in Friendswood, so we moved here and stayed.”
Smith said she knew Friendswood High School was special from the time she walked through the door.
“I loved high school when I was a teenager, and when I came to Friendswood, the same kind of energy, the same kind of involvement was here, and so I just stayed for 44 years,” she said.
Through four decades at FHS, Smith has taught many students who are now fellow teachers and administrators such as Superintendent Thad Roher, FHS Principal Mark Griffon, Executive Director of the Friendswood ISD Education Foundation Ashley Adair and Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Curriculum and Instruction Diane Myers.
Griffon said Smith is just as great today as she was whenever she taught him.
“We’ve always had a great relationship,” he said. “The energy and passion she brings have not wavered one bit; that’s part of her amazing character as a teacher.”
Building relationships is important to Smith, according to Griffon.
“She emphasizes and displays our family culture,” Griffon stated. “She echoes and puts into focus caring about kids inside the classroom and outside of the classroom. She wants them to know they’re a part of our family and we care about them, more than just their grades.”
Smith said her actions to make kids feel important and included is how she believes a teacher should be.
“You have to love kids,” she said. “If you don’t love kids, teaching is not the role for you.”
Part of making students feel important is supporting them in school activities, said Smith.
“There is nothing like talented kids,” Smith said. “I go to as many events as I can because it’s one of my favorite things.”
Another one of her favorite things is engaging with the students in her classroom.
“Kids make me laugh every single day,” Smith stated with a smile. “No two days at Friendswood High School are ever the same, something different happens every day.”
One thing that never fails to make Smith chuckle is seeing the reaction of her students when she talks about some of the things she has experienced.
“I tell them about historical things that I have witnessed because most of them don’t have much history yet. I tell them about things like when JFK was shot or when the space shuttle blew up. I tell them, ‘I can tell you exactly where I was and what I was doing when that happened,’” she said. “I tell them I’ve had the real concerts. The first concert I went to was Elvis Presley. My second concert was The Beatles.”
Through all of the memories – school-related and otherwise – Smith decided to retire once the 2019-2020 school year ends.
“It’s time,” she said. “I still like coming here and doing the things I’m doing here, and I don’t want to teach until I don’t.”
When asked what she plans on doing after she retires, Smith laughed and said, “Nothing.” However, Griffon knows that will not be the case.
“I hope she gets to do all the things she’s wanting to do, but I guarantee you she’ll be back here in her spare time supporting kids, talking about positive things,” Griffon said. “She’ll still be here, just in a different capacity.”
Through 50 years of living out her dream of being a teacher, Smith has touched thousands of lives and the foundation she helped lay in Friendswood ISD will certainly impact many generations of students to come.