As a student teacher at Rice Elementary School in the late '70s, Annie Pitts, of Tyler, became a frequent fill in when teachers were absent throughout the year.

Pitts’ flexibility and familiarity with the campus seem to be part of what led the principal at the time to ask her to apply to teach at Rice.

While there have been many changes at the school since Pitts was hired in 1979, her presence at the campus has been a constant.

“(Each student) has a place,” she said. “They are individuals. Even though some were not good at one thing I would always tell them, ‘You know math wasn’t my strong suit, but I love to read. Do what you do best and be respectful.’”

During a celebration ceremony for the fifth graders at Rice Elementary School on Friday, Pitts was recognized for having taught at Rice the entirety of her 40-year career in education. 

The retiring teacher received a round of applause and a standing ovation from those gathered for the event. A video also was presented that featured the many yearbook photos of Pitts standing alongside the classes she’s taught.

For Pitts — who grew up liking to play school with her siblings — positively impacting the lives of students and meeting high expectations has been key to her wanting to remain at the school.

“Each principal that I worked under had high expectations ...,”she said. “Rice was noted for excelling in test scores and everything so I stayed. It was always a challenge.”

At Friday’s ceremony, Rice Elementary School Principal Shelly Bosley congratulated Pitts and thanked her for her commitment to the school. As Pitts’ fifth grade students left campus, they all seemed to stop by with their families to take photos with her.

Some of the parents also were once students in Pitts’ class.

She said she is looking forward to retirement and has several plans.

“I’m going to work more in the church and travel with my mom,” she said. “I can just pick up and do it whenever I want to. I don’t have to wait to the summer or wait to spring break.” 

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