Dickson graduate turns teacher, pursues counseling degree
Even the best of the best has battled with self doubt and Dickson Upper Elementary teacher Katie Drawbaugh is no different. She first walked the halls of Dickson schools as a student — as did her husband — and first returned not as a teacher but as an assistant.
She simultaneously worked at her former school and completed her bachelor’s but left the field entirely after a disappointing setback. Years later, the opportunity to again become a Comet presented itself and Drawbaugh took it. With the dream job obtained, the real challenges started.
“Sometimes you wonder ‘are you doing your job? Are you making an impact on these students’ lives?’ There were a couple of times where you question yourself,” she said.
Drawbaugh currently teachers 4th grade science and absolutely adores teaching at Dickson Upper Elementary, where she has also instructed 3rd grade and 5th grade students throughout an entire decade as a teacher. While she has known for most of her adult life that she wanted to be a teacher, any doubt was eliminated after one particular 3rd grade student she encountered early in her career.
She said the student came into her class completely unable to read, something disheartening to her and the student. Thinking about how far behind he was from other students in her class, she would question whether her work was having any impact on this particular student.
“He couldn’t even write it in print, let alone cursive,” Drawbaugh said emotionally as she recalled the struggle she and the student faced that year. Despite the difficulties, the pair continued through the school year that ended with a major milestone.
“We worked so hard on things that other kids take for granted, and at the end of the year he was able to write his name in cursive because it was something I taught him,” Drawbaugh said.
Moments like that remind her about the lasting impact she can have on the hometown that unknowingly launched her teaching career. While she knew that education would be part of her career, she originally planned to focus on agriculture.
“That’s where it started. Mr. (Regie) Rowe called me and said ‘do you want to be my ag assistant,’” she said, referring to the long time Dickson Public Schools agriculture instructor.
As she worked her way through college, she continued to move through various positions at Dickson schools, including kindergarten assistant and even managing the daycare for some time. With her college degree obtained, the next step was to complete her teaching certificate.
But a major setback had her rethink her plans entirely.
“I worked here the whole time and I kind of quit because I didn’t pass the test. I was just upset and burned out. Those tests are really hard,” she said.
Drawbaugh settled into a job in banking and later insurance, but the call of the classroom was persistent for about three years.
“I just decided ‘you know what, I’m going to take that test again.’ So I took it again and passed it with flying colors,” she said. What should have been a pivotal moment in Drawbaugh’s career was delayed, however, considering there were no available jobs at Dickson.
“And then I got a call one day. They had an opening,” she said. Drawbaugh took a 5th grade teaching position for a year before moving to a 3rd grade classroom and said students between 8 and 10 years old are her favorite to teach.
“I like the lower [grades], I really did like being a kindergarten assistant and it was a lot of fun,” she said. She learned upper elementary would be her niche while teaching 3rd grade classes early in her career.
“I just fell in love with those kids. They’re at the point where they’re not learning to read, they’re reading to learn and that’s what I really, really like,” she said. “To me, that’s a big difference and I like to make it fun.”
The job isn’t always smiles and Drawbaugh said the hardest part of her job comes once a year.
“I’m not ready for summer and letting them go at the end of the year because you do worry about them,” she said.
With poverty a very real situation for many families, Drawbaugh said that school can be one of the few constants in the lives of some children. Because of the potential trauma faced by young children, Drawbaugh is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in counseling in case the opportunity arises to further serve Dickson students.
“I see the need for it so much, especially in elementary,” she said.
Drawbaugh said she was surprised to learn about her nomination as a 2021 Amazing Teacher and appreciates the recognition.
“I’ve never gotten anything like that before because that stuff doesn’t really matter to me. For someone to notice, that’s pretty cool.”