Jessie South: A Powerful Woman To Be Reckoned With

Interviewed and written by Ashleigh Gamboni-Diehl
June 9, 2016
Published in The UC Merced Writing Project Anthology Summer 2016

(Names and places changed to protect privacy)

When Jessie South was in high school she first encountered the person who would later inspire her to teach.  Mrs. Hunt was strict and had high expectations.  She would start the beginning of the year with a thought experiment.  “Look to your left,” Mrs. Hunt would instruct, “Look to your right, one of you will be gone before this is over.”

Jessie grew up a military brat.  She lived in multiple cities with her four sisters and mom and dad.  Finally, her father, an air force pilot, was stationed in Sweener at Tower Air Force Base, starting Jessie’s life in Merced, California.   An avid reader, writer, and pop culture fanatic, she taught herself to read at an early age using Dick and Jane readers.  “I was a super reader,” Jessie comments, “Just like my mom.”

Since Jessie was a reader, it was surprising that she majored in psychology during her time at the University in Ohio.  But, after discovering the horrors of statistics, and her academic suspension, she quickly decided to stick with Literature.  Soon the call of the Central Valley brought Jessie to the university where she completed her degree in English, and afterwards worked towards her Masters in English Literature.

During this time she took on many responsibilities.  Not only was she studying for her masters, but she was also substituting, coaching volleyball at a high school, teaching two undergraduate writing classes, one at the community college and another at the university, and bar tending.

Hard working, and fun loving, Jessie continues to model her high expectations for her students. She is their role model, coach, and most evidently their teacher.  She teaches them the joys of English, but also reminds them that there is a real world out there.  To help them understand the value of hard work, she shares her story with her students.  Even the unlikely writer has been moved by knowing that even when things are bad you can always turn it around.

When I asked her why she wanted to be a teacher Jessie cheekily relied, “I am a teacher because I am a know it all!” More seriously she adds, “I like to share information, and this is why I teach high school.”

She currently works at Silver River High School, but hopes to further her career as an instructor at a college.  Until she finds a full time faculty position she will continue to enjoy inspiring her high school students.  One day, one of them will tell the world that it was Ms. South who inspired them to teach. Reminiscing on their favorite English teacher they will declare, “She was strict and would always tell us, ‘Look to your right, look to your left, one of you will be gone before this is over.’”