Teaching is a hard yet honorable profession. The pandemic increased demands and challenged work conditions for teachers. There is currently a shortage of diverse educators.
“About eight-in-ten U.S. public school teachers (79%) identified as non-Hispanic White during the 2017-18 school year, the most recent year for which NCES [National Center for Education Statistics] has published demographic data about them. Fewer than one-in-ten teachers were either Black (7%), Hispanic (9%) or Asian American (2%),” according to the Pew Research Center.
But 101-year-old Celeste Dobson worked as a teacher her whole career. Her son, Charles Dobson Jr. added perspective about his mother’s chosen profession.
“Unlike today, it was one of the few professions a Black woman could pursue,” Charles Dobson Jr. said.
He carefully fastened a necklace around his mother’s neck one mild day as sunlight filled a room. A pendant attached to a gold chain served as a reminder of a time long ago when then Celeste Sherard completed her education in 1949.
“I went to Maryland State Teachers College,” she proudly proclaimed. “I liked teaching.”
Today, Maryland State Teachers College is now known as Bowie State University.
“Bowie State University’s College of Education began in 1925 as a two-year professional curriculum in teacher education, and was expanded to a three-year program. In 1935, a four-year program for the training of elementary school teachers began, and the school was renamed Maryland State Teachers College at Bowie,” per information provided on Bowie’s website.
While turning back the hands of time, it is critical to note that Celeste’s parents made decisions with their children in mind. Celeste was born in Jackson, Georgia to Winston Sherard and Eliza Sherard. Winston was a country doctor who was paid in commodities such as chicken, corn, fruits, vegetables and potatoes. He earned his medical training at Meharry Medical College, an HBCU in Nashville, Tennessee.
“Her mother [Eliza] took a job at Alabama A&M as the headmistress to help support the family,” Charles Dobson Jr. said.
Celeste was the youngest of five children in the Sherard family. At the young age of 12 or 13, Eliza sent her to live with Celeste’s cousins in Easton, Maryland after being reared in Decatur, Alabama. Celeste Bantam, and Joseph Bantam, the owner of an upholstery business on the Eastern Shore, were extremely supportive of their cousin. Joseph also made sails for sailing boats, according to Charles.
Young Celeste was reportedly named after her older cousin. Charles remarked that his mother probably had assistance from her cousins to pay for college. Celeste and Charles Dobson Sr. married in 1946 after World War II. But Celeste Dobson stayed with good friends after starting a teaching job at a segregated school, named Bruton Heights School near Yorktown, Virginia, while her husband was away in the military around 1949. Her late husband was a World War II and Korean War veteran who likely settled in the Virginia area with his wife permanently because of his service. Additionally, the government-built housing for returning veterans in Newport News, Virginia.
“I would like to live here all of the time,” she said, reflecting on life in Hampton, Virginia.
Celeste Dobson has been living in Hampton, Virginia since 1955. She retired from teaching in the late seventies.
While Charles Jr. helped to piece together a timeline of his mother’s life, Celeste Dobson stayed seated in a chair, recounting her days of attending college and teaching, as much as her memory would allow. She has been a member of Chums, Inc., a social organization for ladies, since the 1960s. Celeste Dobson was once a clotheshorse who loved wearing fashionable items and decorating her home with flowers.
“All women like clothes,” she said, perking up.
Celeste Dobson celebrated her 101st birthday on April 29, 2023. During the pandemic Celeste’s son relocated to Hampton to take care of his mother. He’s been her caretaker for over three years. Charles Dobson Jr. read a message from one of Celeste Dobson’s friends who was also a fellow teacher. Due to illness, Joyce Hopson could not show up in person to do it herself, but the words were no less impactful.
“Beloved teacher and friend Celeste, It has been my honor and privilege to know ‘an iconic original’ one- room school educator, who walked to school each morning to make a fire in a pot belly stove, to teach African American children, and who daily accompanied the school bus driver to and from school on the Eastern Shore of Maryland,” Hopson said in a message.
Celeste Dobson is a class act who handled her duties to educate children with grace. She once told Hopson about how she taught the alphabet, phonics, penmanship, arithmetic and reading to 75 students.
“Continued blessings on your happy 101st birthday,” Hopson also wrote.