A lot has changed since Sharon Buffington attended the one-room schoolhouse where she first became inspired to teach, but one thing remains the same - her passion for learning.
Taught by Jeannie Rackers at Lone Star, Buffington found the passion to begin a teaching career.
"That's really where I fell in love with teaching," she said.
After 36 years of inspiring her own students, the local educator has announced her retirement. As she embarks on a new chapter, Buffington hopes she's made a difference in the lives of many, and said her teaching and learning won't come to an end as she ventures outside the classroom.
"Life is a learning school," Buffington said. Although it offers lessons in good and bad, "you have to apply those lessons every day and keep a smile."
After graduating high school from Jefferson City in 1962, Buffington headed off to Southwest Baptist College in Bolivar for two years and then on to Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark., where she earned her bachelor's degree in English. Minors in speech, drama and journalism were earned at Hannibal LaGrange College while working there. She later earned her master's in education from Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar. In 1966, Buffington took her first teaching job, earning a $4,600 salary.
She married Don Buffington 46 years ago, and the couple have been in education their entire lives. Jefferson City natives, the couple moved out of the area for 16 years, raising their family in Hannibal while on staff at Hannibal-LaGrange University. There, Sharon was Dean of Women for 12 years. The couple moved back to Central Missouri 20 years ago to continue teaching.
"This is home. We wanted to be back with family," Buffington noted.
The longtime educator has taught at several area schools over the years, including time spent at South Callaway, Fulton, New Bloomfield, Blair Oaks, Camdenton, School of the Osage and most recently, six years at Lighthouse Preparatory Academy (LPA). Her students ranged from grades seven to 12, and she taught subjects such as English, writing, speech, drama and journalism. One of her favorite classes to teach was combining history and literature at LPA.
Throughout her career, the local educator has had to adapt to new curriculum requirements, changes in technology and most notably, the change in culture and the American family.
"Students are living in a time when they can have too much access if not supervised," she noted.
"We just live in such a busy world," she related. "Teaching is a small part of it. You have to be able to meet other needs."
Buffington explained that because the world is changing, it is becoming harder to raise kids today. That translates to the classroom as well. "To say that teaching is all flowers and roses is just not being honest."
Also because of the change in society, Buffington said teachers and students are having to be more alert to safety, and schools are locked and have more security. "We are living in a changing world. In a way, that does take away from the beautiful learning experience."
She said that now, more than ever, there is a need for dedicated teachers who not only know their subject matter, but are gifted and called to teaching.
"It is a wonderful profession. You make a difference, it is hard, but worth all the sacrifices you make," she said.
Buffington said adapting to the ever-changing technology has also been a major challenge, but she is grateful for the growing experiences.
"It has stretched me. But I love learning. I hope I never stop learning," she said. "Technology has been most challenging, but also very rewarding."
Because she's had to keep up with her students and teach on their level of technology, it has motivated her to learn things she may not have otherwise. "It is mind-boggling where technology is today."
The technology, she said, while a great thing for research and other learning, is also making it tougher to keep kids engaged. "They are too used to being entertained. It's very had to keep them interested."
She said the change to a more tech-savvy world has pressed teachers to become even more creative and "out of the box" in their lessons than ever before.
Spending her last teaching years in the private sector, her time spent at LPA was seen as refreshing. She has been with the local private school since its beginning.
"It was a high note to end on," she related.
Buffington will not return to teaching in the fall, as she said now feels like the right time to focus her energy on other things.
"I'm just realizing how many things I haven't gotten to do," the retiree said.
Among her plans are spending time exercising (she loves biking), photography, traveling, finding ways to help people, especially spending time with her nine grandchildren. She also plans to continue her work with the women's ministry "Apples of Gold," which she helped found, at Concord Baptist Church.
Hundreds of kids may have been touched by Buffington's teaching, but the three closest to her and Don have been as well. The couple's children - Jennifer Scheperle, Jill Martin and Josh Buffington - have all gone into education. "We are very proud of them," she said.
For now, Buffington is just enjoying another summer. This fall, however, when everyone heads back to the classroom, she'll enter into a new way of life. No matter what she does, and where she goes, her students will always bring her joy.
"One of the greatest things about teaching is to have students walk up to me, remind me who they are, and how I made a difference in their lives," she explained.