Long-Serving H.D. Woodson Teacher Celebrates Success with Seniors

Photograph By
Charnice A. Milton

H.D. Woodson High School teacher Barbara Parker (left) speaks to student Tarrence Cross, who emceed the Senior Breakfast at the Benning Road Denny's.

For years, seniors from H.D. Woodson have been treated to breakfast at the Denny's located on Benning Road. This year they were treated to an appearance from Mayor Vincent Gray, who encouraged the college-bound students to “go off and get your future nailed down, but come back and take on the responsibility of running this city.” While the event honored the soon-to-be graduates, ANC 7E chairperson Mary Jackson believes that the event is a testament to their teacher’s dedication to her students.

Mrs. Parker

A Ward 7 native, Barbara Parker began working at Woodson in August 1978. “At first I was at a very small school with maybe 20 teachers, and it got too political in that school,” she reminisced. “I wanted to go to a larger school where I would not have to involve myself in the politics of educating students and also get involved in school politics. I thought if I could go to a larger venue I could do what I was created to do, and that was to teach.” Throughout the years she proved her dedication to her students, arriving as early as 6:30 a.m. and leaving as late as 6:30 p.m. for tutoring. Today she is an English teacher, a senior class sponsor, and a member of the School Chapter Advisory Committee.

According to Commissioner Jackson, Parker's dedication extends beyond the classroom. “I felt that Mrs. Parker has been doing this for so many years for these young people, using her own funds,” Commissioner Jackson explained. “This is not school money; this is money that she has saved to do this project every year to celebrate her young people, and nobody has ever recognized it.” She also explained that Parker does other events throughout the year, from special teas to mentoring sessions. “She has been nothing but encouraging to these young people,” Commissioner Jackson said. “Mrs. Parker only has one son ... but she has many children that she has dealt with over the years at H.D.”

How She Teaches

According to Woodson media specialist and librarian Kimberly Wright, Parker takes an “old-school” approach to teaching. “She always brings her students down [to the library], and they actually utilize the library, not just the Internet,” she explained. “I know that students will get a solid education with her ... She makes each student earn their grade.”

With Parker, in order to get good grades students must understand what they are learning. “After I diagnose my students, I like to put them in the realm of success,” Parker said of her teaching style. While she sets core objectives, she also breaks them into smaller categories. “For example, one of the last things we did was to understand what makes up the characteristics of a Shakespearean sonnet,” she explained. “Initially they said 'Shakespeare? I don't want to learn that ...'” The key, she said, is to make the subject understandable for each student. Parker only asks for her students to be productive contributors in the classroom.

Parker also helps students complete large projects. Since March her students have been involved in a research project to explain their projected career paths. Afterwards the students defend their papers in front of their peers. “The thing I like about it is that I learn from them,” Parker explained. “I learn that they have a passion for what they are going to do ... and they are able to tell you about those career paths: what are the costs, where to go to school, best place to work, how it would impact this community, how it would impact the nation, how it would impact the world, and they cite their research.”

The Students Speak

At the seniors breakfast students were quick to praise their teacher. Terrial Williams described her as a “great, great, great grandmother” because of the advice and discipline Parker gives. “She doesn't take any stuff from anybody,” he said. “Either you're going to learn something in her class, or you don't.” Some students, like Dominique Miles, had to adjust to Parker's disciplinary style. “I thought she was mean at first, but she’s real nice,” said Miles. “I didn't know her then. She's one of my favorite teachers.”

They also respond to Parker's teaching techniques. For instance, Jeremiah Johnson credits her for helping him improve his answers on brief constructed response (BCR) questions. “Instead of writing the same two sentences, I can write more about the subject and get more credit.” Another student, Tarrence Cross, acknowledged Parker's role in helping seniors with their research project. “She took two weeks before it was due and she really broke it down so she helped us understand it,” he explained. When asked whether they would recommend Parker to other students, many said they would. “She's the best English teacher,” said Williams. “It's not an opinion; it's a fact.”

For the Students

Parker has been at Woodson for 35 years, and she stays because of the students. “It's so rewarding to see them grow. It's so rewarding to see them reach maturity. It's so rewarding to see them after they leave high school,” she remarked. “They love to brag and tell me how much money they make.” She said four of her former students are now millionaires and they ask if she needs anything. “No,” she answers with a laugh. “I'm an independent woman!”

Seeing Woodson alumni succeed gives Commissioner Jackson hope in changing perspectives about Ward 7. “Most people look at East of the River as bad, negative,” she said. “But this is really a rich ward ... Riches don't come just in money. Riches come in spirit, in the heart, and in how you think about each other as citizens.” She believes that Parker is one of the reasons why Ward 7 is considered “the richest ward in the city”: “That's what Mrs. Parker has been all these years; she has been an instrument of strictness, love, and educating.”

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