Mary Berry looks forward to retirement after 39 years in education


Chrissy Dooley, Staff Writer

Mary Berry entered Portsmouth High School as a special education teacher during September of 1975. Thirty-nine years have passed since she walked into her first classroom, and she is now ready to retire.

Berry is originally from Portsmouth, Va. She graduated from Cradock High School in 1971. She attended college at Norfolk State University and Christopher Newport University. After graduating from NSU in 1975 with a degree in special education, she went to CNU to earn a degree  in EMR/TMR in 1975.

From a young age, Berry knew that she wanted to be a teacher because she enjoyed school. It is during this time she also knew she wanted to help students with disabilities. She noticed how these students were kept separate from others, and she didn’t like it. Sometimes separation even meant staying at home.

“I had a cousin who had a lot of problems and back in the day they just stayed at home and I started working with her because she didn’t go to school,” Berry said.

As a special education teacher, she has taught every subject; however, she has taught math more than the others.

In 1990, Berry began her career at MHS.  Because there weren’t any jobs available, she was hired as a part-time one-on-one mentor. She then became a teacher’s assistant before becoming a full-time special education teacher in 1994. As a special education teacher here, she has co-taught many subjects including math, science and history. She has also been a summer school teacher.

“I like being able to help students reach their potential and be successful,” Berry said.

Her career at MHS includes more than teaching. She served as a class sponsor for eight years and she has been a member of the athletic boosters for close to 10 years. She has also served as the exceptional children’s department chair for two years and she used to do the pep club.

Class sponsors are in charge of a particular grade and help with spirit activities throughout the year. Class sponsors of the junior class are also in charge of prom. When Berry was a class sponsor, the sponsor started with a class freshman year and stayed with them until they graduated.

“Being a class sponsor was awesome,” Berry said. “You got to know the students. When it came to Homecoming activities, you enjoyed the camaraderie with the students.”

In the past, the school had a pep club. The club supported athletics and the school would sponsor a bus to take the students to away game.

“We would just sit in the stands with everybody,” Berry said. “[Our last pep club] was probably about 19 years ago. It wasn’t really any different from cheering, it was just extra supporters.”

The club ended after Berry stepped down as sponsor and nobody else wanted to take over it.

Berry might be best known for her work with the athletic boosters. Whether it’s football season, basketball season or baseball season, she can be found manning the ticket table.

For the last 20 or so years, she’s been one of the first people here in the morning. She usually gets to school at 6:15 a.m., and she covers the front desk from 7:15 until receptionist Pam Buscemi comes in. Doing so allows her to see a lot of the people in the building, both faculty and students.

“I began coming in early when I lived in Colington Harbor,” Berry said. “I got behind a school bus and thought I would never get to the bypass. After this happened a few times, I started leaving early.”

Announcing her retirement has been years in the making. She’s been contemplating it for some time, but she is now ready to do something different.

“I knew it was time to retire because I have been teaching for a total of 39 years and I am 64,” Berry said. “I think it’s time to have some fun.”

During her time in education, she has made many wonderful memories and impacted a lot of lives.

“I am going to miss the students, and I hope to visit them after I retire,” she said. “The students are what I enjoy about teaching. [I love] the excitement they have when they are successful. [I have enjoyed] seeing my students graduate and seeing them make something of themselves. I hope [they] have learned how to be successful and to never doubt themselves or give up.”

Berry’s bubbly personality and upbeat attitude will be missed by the faculty next year. She’s always wearing a smile and willing to offer a helping hand.

“I have been working with her for seven years,” exceptional children teacher Lauren Nieman said. “She has always been there to teach me new things or to help me out, whether it is about school or something personal. I gonna miss her always having a positive attitude and her being so happy.”

Her students feel the same way. She’s been with many of her students throughout their entire high school career.

“She has been my teacher for three years now,” junior Nick Harris said. “She has taught me different ways to look at things [and] I’m going to miss her helping me with anything I need.”

After almost four decades in education, her life is sure to be different once retirement begins this summer.

“After retirement I am looking forward to sleeping in late and doing exactly what I want to do every day,” Berry said.

Even though she’ll be retired, Berry still plans to be a familiar face around the campus. She plans to continue selling tickets at the athletic gates, working the concession stands, and volunteering in the school.

Berry’s last official day as teacher at MHS will be June 13 , 2017.