By David Boyce
Corby Downer has settled into her 30th year of teaching for Liberty Public Schools. Her social studies classroom at Discovery Middle School has a welcoming feel to it. One of the mottos that hangs in her classroom emphasizes tolerance.
“When they get out of this class, I want them to have an appreciation and tolerance for those that look, talk, and have beliefs different than their own,” Downer said. “I want them to judge a person by their actions and by their heart and not by their appearance. That is my big focus on everything we talk about here. By studying different cultures and different religions, we learn to judge people by how they act and the choices they make, not by the clothes they are wearing, the color of their skin, or their religious beliefs. I want these students to be organized and well-rounded individuals, to be productive in their adult life.”
Spend a few minutes with Downer, and it is easy to see her joy of teaching is the same as when she started 30 years ago at Alexander Doniphan Elementary School. She arrived at LPS after spending her first five years teaching at an elementary school in the Kansas City Kansas School District.
Downer grew up in KCK, but Liberty quickly became home for her when she attended William Jewell College, met her husband in college, and settled into the community.
“I always wanted to be here,” she said. “I felt very fortunate when I was able to get a job at Liberty. To me, Liberty felt like home. My husband and I established a home here.”
Downer figured some of the memories of her three decades of teaching at LPS might enter her mind on August 12 at the district’s annual convocation for all LPS personnel to kick off the school year. Besides getting LPS employees energized for the upcoming school year, service awards are given. Downer knew she was going to get an award for 30 years of service. The thing Downer wasn’t expecting was to be called to the stage area in the Liberty North field house and interviewed in a Jimmy Fallon-like setting.
“It was quite funny,” Downer said.
Downer also wasn’t expecting the teasing sort of questions that came from Dallas Ackerman, the Communications and Marketing Director at LPS. He asked who was the worst student she ever taught.
Downer delivered the perfect answer.
“I never had a bad student,” she said. “You don’t make it this long in this profession without learning how to be politically correct. I am sure he was banking on me not spitting out a name there.”
Undaunted, Ackerman pressed on and asked her who was her least favorite co-worker.
“I think I have lasted this long in the field of education, because I have always been surrounded by really great people from top to bottom,” she said. “I know what my strengths and weaknesses are, and I capitalize on my strengths, and I know who to go to for things that are weaknesses of mine.
“When you surround yourself with successful people, you will be successful.”
Through the years, Downer has taught first, second, third, fourth, sixth, and seventh grades. She spent most of her years teaching elementary school. When she felt she needed a change, LPS was supportive in helping her make the transition to middle school. She said Bob Vogelaar, Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources, was very helpful in making that happen for her.
“It absolutely regenerated me, getting a new start at the middle school level,” Downer said. “I just happened to luck into social studies. I love the content, and I also get the opportunity to do all the ELA (English Language Arts) things that I like. I focus on teaching students how to be good writers and good readers. I can do all of that through the social studies curriculum. I lucked out. I fell into something that was a really good fit for me in a really good place. Changes are good. Changes keep you on top of your game.”
The change took Downer to South Valley Middle School, and now for the last several years, Discovery Middle School.
“I can go to absolutely anybody here at DMS, and they will help me with anything I need help with, whether it be a student, technology, anything,” Downer said. “It is a very supportive staff who have each other’s backs and who care about kids. We have great administrators here who are super supportive. It is just a really peaceful culture. There is no drama, no stress. I feel very valued as a teacher. My administrators have confidence that I can do the job.”
It meant a lot to Downer that last year she was selected as Discovery Middle School’s Teacher of the Year.
“That was quite an honor,” she said. “You are nominated by your peers here in the building. I felt very grateful for that honor, because I have only been in the building a few years. To get that award was pretty special.”
Downer feels the same way about the school district.
“I think that truly, everybody who is involved in decision making in regards to the students in this district, really do try to do what is best for the kids,” she said. “Everyone does not always agree on what is best for the kids, but in their hearts, they do try to make decisions that will benefit our student population.”