‘I just fell in love with teaching’: At 95, Edwinna Edwards reflects on a lifelong education career

By BRYAN DAVIS PUBLISHER,

Edwinna Edwards had no intention of ever becoming a teacher.

She can’t recall exactly what she studied during her years at Mississippi State, but she is sure that none of the classes involved education.

“I majored in getting out of here,” Edwards said, with a laugh.

As her 95th birthday approaches, Edwards’ sense of humor is as spry as ever.

She thinks fast, and she’s quick with a comeback.

She probably needed that during her distinguished career in education, which started during World War II and lasted until four years ago when she turned 91.

The City of Indianola will honor Edwards’ 70 years of teaching by naming March 16 Educator Edwinna Edwards’ Day.

Edwards has been exposed to the education field her entire life.

Her father was a college instructor, and her mother was also an educator.

“I said I would never be a teacher in my life, because I watched them, and then guess what I did,” she said.

Edwards grew up in Maben, near Mississippi State where her father was an Extension Ag teacher.

They would later move to south Mississippi, where he took a job teaching at Jones County Community College.

“I grew up to be a campus brat,” Edwards said. “I’d go with my daddy to school. He’d let me do that.”

She finished high school in just three years, and by that time, the family had moved back to the campus of Mississippi State. Every class was within walking distance, she said.

Edwards completed college in three years, just as she had in high school.

A Teaching Career is Born

America was still in the thick of WWII when Edwards married Allen Edwards, whose family farmed in the Linn community.

The couple had their first of four children when she first went to work.

“My father-in-law told me one day, when I had a baby on my hip, ‘Edwinna, you’ve got to go to work.’ I said, ‘okay.’ I went to town in Indianola, looking for a job and happened to meet a man as I was going toward the high school that was on the (school) board. Isn’t that lucky? The Lord has led me like you wouldn’t believe.”

The man was so impressed with her background and all of the places she had lived that he immediately went to work to find her a teaching position.

“I just fell in love with teaching,” Edwards said.

Her first teaching job was in the schoolhouse in Linn, where she taught about 20 first graders.

“My sister-in-law was a very good teacher, and she taught the second grade, right across the hall from me,” Edwards said. “At break time, she would teach me how to teach. She was really good at that.”

Edwards would eventually teach sixth graders at Lockard Elementary in Indianola, before moving on to Indianola Academy during its second year of operation.

“We were in churches then,” she said. “We didn’t have a building. When we got the building, I moved over there and taught sixth grade.” 

By 1973, Edwards had taken over as principal of the elementary school at IA. She would serve in that position for 21 years, until her retirement in 1994.

A Trailblazer at IA

During her education career, Edwards earned two Master’s degrees, one in elementary education and the other in elementary administration.

It was her immediate interest in computers that perhaps had the biggest impact on the students at IA.

Edwards said her brother Harold had become friends with Ed Roberts, the inventor of the Altair computer in 1975. Bill Gates credits Roberts with building the first personal computer.

Before the Altair hit the market, her brother and Roberts mailed the machine to her, to get feedback on practical things an educator could do with it.

“They wanted to know what an educator would think about it, and I was fascinated, just fascinated with what that little thing could do,” Edwards said.

Edwards saw and got to use perhaps one of the earliest versions of the computer.

“It was not finished,” she said. “They were working on it, and I had to send it back…It hooked me. I started learning everything I could do.”

Edwards said that her brother and Roberts later became friends with Gates, who would go on to build the Microsoft corporation into a billion dollar company.

Prior to that, though, IBM had gotten ahead of just about everyone in the mass manufacturing of personal computers.

Edwards knew this was going to be the wave of the future, and she wanted her students exposed to the technology at an early age.

“IBM was the one we bought first,” she said. “I did something unusual. I got laughed at, made fun of and everything else. I bought those computers for first grade, kindergarten, all the way up to sixth grade.”

Edwards would go on to work for IBM as a consultant for a year after her 1994 retirement from IA.

Forever An Educator

Edwards could have completely retired at age 70, but she never stopped working.

After her husband passed at age 70, she was determined to stay positive and keep doing what she loved.

“My husband died, and I thought I was just going to work on,” she said. “I was not going to let myself get like some people do, so sad and not feeling like you’re going to do anything anymore. I was not going to do that. I made up my mind, and I worked.”

After her short stint at IBM, she returned to Sunflower County and taught at Mississippi Delta Community College for nearly two decades, which included work at the Capps Center.

She also taught in the library system, but an operation four years ago forced her to leave her day job behind.

When the library called her and asked her to return, she made one of the hardest decisions of her life.

“I told them, ‘My head says yes, but my body tells me no way,’” she said. “You have to recuperate from surgery. That’s what stopped me. (Otherwise), I’d probably still be teaching, if they’re foolish enough to want me.”

At 95, Edwards still makes herself available for tutoring to anyone who needs the help.

And her birthday wish?

“I would love to see every student I ever taught,” she said. “That’s impossible, I know. But you know, some do come back and tell me how much they enjoyed it.”

Together, Edwards and her husband raised four children, two boys and two girls, Fletcher, Will, Allenda and Patrice.

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