A fixture at Cherokee Elementary School for the last 35 years, Donna Brasher is retiring.
She was the Chapter 1 reading coach her first year and has been a 4th grade classroom teacher the last 34 years.
“I’ve had people say, ‘Donna, why don’t you get your administrative degree and become a principal?’” she said. “I appreciated that thought, but I was a classroom teacher. I loved being with the children.”
She found 4th grade to be the perfect age student for her.
“They’re grown up enough to be independent,” she said. “But they’re not so grown up that it’s no longer cool for them to love their teacher.”
Cherokee has changed in her years there just as teaching methods have changed.
“It was just 4th and 5th grade when I started,” she said. “They added the third grade wing. There was no gym when I started. We ate lunch in our rooms and the lunchroom was a space for PE on rainy days when the kids couldn’t go outside.”
There were 35 students in her room the first years she taught. That’s down now to about 22 nowadays.
In the early days, teachers taught every subject. The Cherokee teachers have become specialists in recent years. Brasher grew up with a love of reading and language arts and that was her specialty. Her room contains a mini-library of children’s books that she is donating to her successor.
Brasher started in the days of chalkboards and overhead projectors.
All kinds of technology define teaching today.
“I had one of the first computers in my early years,” she said. “It had a floppy disk drive.”
No one can accuse her of not continuing to learn until the very end of her career.
“Two months ago, I didn’t know what a Google Meet was,” she said.
That’s the computer program teachers used to meet with their classes for the last 2 months of school this year during the COVID-19 shutdown.
Brasher said it was not the ending she envisioned for her career, but it wasn’t bad. Her fellow teachers would no doubt have thrown a party for her. Brasher isn't disappointed that it didn't happen.
"I don't really like being the center of attention," she said.
Sometimes, former teachers are called on to substitute teach or fill in for maternity leaves. Brasher doesn’t plan to do any of that.
“To me, it has always been about building relationships with the students,” she said. “You can’t do that so much as a substitute teacher.”
She always wanted to be a teacher. Her mom Dot Brasher and her sister Harolyn Roberts are both educators. The women are very close and have coffee every afternoon on Dot Brasher’s porch.
Brasher is from Boaz and lived in Boaz the entire time she taught in Guntersville, so she feels a deep connection to both communities.
She has worked for 8 different principals, from Sue Morgan to Julie Ann McCulley.
“Sue Morgan taught me a lot about how to run a classroom,” Brasher said.
McCulley was one of Brasher’s 4th grade students back in the day.
“I’ve joked that when one of my 4th graders became my principal, it might be time for me to think about retiring,” Brasher said with a smile.
She is a member of Crestview Church of Christ in Boaz and she plans to use her teacher skills to help overhaul the church’s education program. She is looking forward to that project.
And the love of language she has developed over so many years of school may come in handy for another project. Brasher has enjoyed the funny things that happen in school. She’s thinking of writing a book and she already has a catchy title: “Field Trips, Faculty Meetings and Full Moons.”
For many years, Brasher has been the “grade rep” for 4th grade. Each grade has a representative who is part of the school leadership team.
That has been a wonderful experience as well, Brasher said.
“This structure has helped us build a team, so we are all working together,” Brasher said. “It works.”
Many people have kind of thought of Brasher as Cherokee’s assistant principal even though she never officially held that title. If the principal was away and a question came up among the teachers, Brasher was the one they often turned to.
Cherokee was the first of Guntersville’s schools to be recognized as a Blue Ribbon School in the recent push for that designation.
“It’s a good place with quality educators and a lot of support from the administration and the community,” Brasher said. “If we had a need, we just had to pick up the phone and make a call. It’s not like that everywhere.”
She said the school system’s push to embrace technology was invaluable when they had to go to online learning the last 2 months.
“We were almost to a 1-to-1 ratio on electronic devices to students when this came up,” she said. “The students already knew how to use Google Classroom and thank goodness they did.”
She has enjoyed her time at Cherokee immensely and doesn’t have any big plans for retirement. She said it’s just time to see what else is out there.