East Hampton High School teacher Priscilla Campbell will pack up her classroom for the last time this summer.
After 22 years, Ms. Campbell is moving on to a new position at the New York State United Teachers union beginning September 3. While she is excited about the move, Ms. Campbell is mindful that she is leaving a big part of her life behind, much like her seniors who will graduate on Saturday.
“It will be my graduation, too,” she said on Tuesday. “Teaching has been a dream of a job in many ways because it has presented so many challenges to me and I’ve always embraced challenges and change. There is no way I’m not going to miss this.”
Ms. Campbell attended Columbia University and began her teaching career at East Hampton High School after working as a travel agent in Jamaica, where she is originally from. Now 55, she taught Advanced Placement macroeconomics and human geography, among other courses during her time at the school. She began teaching ninth grade when she started at East Hampton in 1991, but toward the end of her career she was shifted to senior classes.
“I’ve enjoyed working with teens more than I could’ve ever imagined coming into the job,” she said. “In the end, teaching is as much about the relationships you develop with your kids as it is about what you teach them.”
It has been a priority for her as a teacher to expand her students’ horizons by taking them overseas, she said. She has taken her classes to Europe and more recently to developing countries in Africa and Southeast Asia. Her last senior class will be traveling to Senegal on July 5 to help build an elementary school for a small village there.
“There is no better way to learn about the world than to see it,” Ms. Campbell said. “You develop a whole new sense of who you are and the role you play.”
She compared teaching students to creating a sculpture—the sculptor molds a piece by taking away and adding clay, but never really finishes.
Her second passion is the labor movement. For the last 16 years, Ms. Campbell has served as the president of the East Hampton School District’s teachers union and worked closely with NYSUT. “Having done this job, the teaching part, as long as I have, I understand very well the challenge we face in education—the day-to-day challenge of the classroom, but also the expectations of teachers that are often not supported by legislation,” she said.
As a paid intern at NYSUT, she’ll learn how to help teacher unions navigate labor issues, such as contract negotiations and legislation. She said the new position is a confluence of everything she is good at—working with people and solving problems.
East Hampton High School Principal Adam Fine said she will be remembered and missed for her fierce student advocacy.
Ms. Campbell said she won’t forget her time at the school, either. “I’ll miss that first day in September every year,” she said tearing up. “That adrenaline rush that I would get driving down Long Lane on the first day of school in September—there’s nothing like it.”