With her 33 years as an elementary teacher at Westwood School, plus additional time she devoted to pursuits like tutoring at the Mack Gaston Community Center, Marian Pinson, who retired in May from Dalton Public Schools, can't completely let go.
"There are still a couple of kids I can't get out of my mind," she said. "I want to check in with them to make sure they're OK."
Pinson began teaching in first grade and spent her final dozen Westwood years teaching third grade, but, in between, "I was all over the school," she said with a smile. No matter what grade she taught, however, she "put the children first, because they're why you're there."
Pinson "was all about the students," and "she was a favorite of students," said Scott Ehlers, Westwood's principal. "It is hard to imagine Westwood School without Marian."
She's "an amazing educator and mentor," said Westwood teacher Stephanie Montijo. Pinson "is a teacher who is there truly for the kids."
Pinson never thought she'd be a teacher, instead focusing on merchandising and working at Sears, but once she got involved in elementary education, "I loved it, and it grew on me very, very quickly."
"Watching (students) work, watching the learning happen, is priceless, and it's wonderful," Pinson said. "Watching them 'get it' is so refreshing."
Westwood's students were the primary reason she struggled to step away, she said.
"I had such mixed emotions (about retirement) — I couldn't stop crying — because of the kids, (but) new teachers are coming in with new innovations, and it's time to move aside," she said.
"It's been 33 years," she added. "I always said I'd know when it was time, because you can just feel it."
Pinson advises young and/or new teachers to "go in with a big smile, give it all you have, and always remember the kids are first."
"The kids will learn from you, but you'll learn from them, as well," she said. "I feel you can't have too much knowledge."
For Pinson, a positive attitude was paramount to a successful classroom. She had a sign on her door reminding students "don't enter the room without a smile."
"We will miss her smiling face, larger-than-life personality, work ethic and energy," but she'll always be part of the Westwood family, Ehlers said. "Once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat."
Another sign she kept on her door throughout her teaching career advised students never to say "can't," she said. Instead, "say 'I will try.'"
Pinson was Westwood's teacher of the year in 2012, but she's been just as valuable — if not more so — outside the classroom in her personal life, said her husband, Tom. She's "an awesome lady, wife, mother and grandmother."
There seemed no better school for Pinson to ply her trade than Westwood.
"I loved Westwood, (because) it was so inviting and family oriented," she said. ''Staff was always open door, always a warm heart, easy to talk to, and a friend if you needed one."
"Some places feel cold, but (Westwood) wasn't just cordial, it was friendly," she added. Everyone was "very familiar."
In addition, "school improvements were always encouraged and wholeheartedly welcomed" by Westwood's administrators, and "it felt great to help shape a working environment that benefits everyone," she said. Representatives of each grade level met daily to share ideas and plan lessons for standards, and "we also at times met with upper and lower grade levels to make sure we were best serving our students."
"I love Westwood because of their love for kids, (and) when you say 'Westwood,' three words come to mind: family, teamwork and commitment," she said. Westwood is "the greatest place to educate your child."