“There’s no place like home” is certainly true for one Knox County native who made a lot of sacrifices from an early age to stay in Knox County and fulfill her calling: to teach.
Tabitha Wagers grew up in Knox County. She went to school here, made friends and fell in love with the only place she ever knew of as home. All of that changed when she had to move out of state, however.
“I moved to Harrogate, Tn my junior year of high school. I hated it. It is a beautiful place to live but I missed my friends and home. It just wasn’t home like Barbourville is to me,” said Wagers.
Rather than accept defeat, Wagers made the drive every day from Harrogate so she could attend Knox Central High School and be with her friends.
“That’s how much I love being here,” continued Wagers.
Soon after high school, Wagers once again faced inner turmoil over leaving Knox County. After many sleepless nights and tears, Wagers enrolled at Union College, setting the tone for the rest of her life in the little town that she loves.
“I love this little town and the love that we have for each other. I just didn’t want to leave that,” said Wagers. “That’s what scared me. I was really afraid that I would leave and not have the same support system that I have here.”
As a student at Union, Wagers began working toward her goal in life to become a teacher, something she knew she was called to do since she was little.
“My mom was a school secretary and when I was in middle school, my dad got his teaching certificate. I was in the schoolhouse all the time and I loved it,” said Wagers.
Wagers then continued her education at Union, receiving her master’s degree. She is currently working on her rank I degree at Union, too.
Now a fourth and fifth grade writing and reading teacher at Barbourville Elementary School, all of the collegiate education in the world couldn’t prepare Wagers for just how difficult a teacher’s life is.
“I didn’t realize how much work is truly involved in being a teacher. As a child, you don’t see the struggle, the stress and sometimes the heartache that comes along with being a teacher. I often take things home with me that I should not, but it’s hard not to,” said Wagers. “You have to really control your emotions. You can’t always wear your heart on your sleeve. That is the most difficult part. No matter what kind of day I’m having, I have to come in here and be the best actress this world has ever seen. No matter if I’m sick or if my personal life is a hot mess, when I come in here, I have to pretend like everything is ok.”
One thing is certain: despite the hard days and the long hours, Wagers is currently working her dream job and the positive impact she is making on her students definitely shows.
“I call all of my students my kids. They’re with me more than they’re home. They become a big part of your life,” continued Wagers. “Here at Barbourville, we’re more like a family. Once you come, you stay. The people I work with really do care about the kids. It goes beyond their academic status. It’s about the whole child.”