Anne Gayles-Felton (M.A. ’47) endowed a $250,000 scholarship at Teachers College because “I was born into a family of educators.” But there’s much more to the story of Gayles-Felton, 93, Professor Emerita at Florida A&M University (FAMU) and lifetime honoree of the National Association of Teacher Educators.
Gayles-Felton’s grandmother was the daughter of freed slaves and a graduate of Atlanta University. Aided by the American Missionary Association, she established a Congregationalist boarding school in her hometown of Marshallville, Georgia because she wanted each black child to get an education. The school stayed in the family for 113 years before it became part of the Macon County public school system, and Gayles-Felton herself did her own first teaching there when the school was run by her aunt.
[Dewey's] philosophy of learning by doing made so much sense to me, because TC was teaching us through that theory. People were saying, ‘What do you need coming from the South? How can I help?’ And they really helped me.
In the summers, Gayles-Felton accompanied her aunt to Teachers College, where the latter took courses – “as many Southern blacks of that era did,” Gayles-Felton notes, because they were denied admission by schools of education in their home states. Subsequently, Gayles-Felton herself enrolled at TC, where, inspired by Professors Florence Stratemyer, George Counts and Margaret Lindsay, she switched her focus from teaching high school students to teaching teachers. She also learned about the ideas of TC’s great education philosopher, John Dewey.
“His philosophy of learning by doing made so much sense to me, because TC was teaching us through that theory. People were saying, ‘What do you need coming from the South? How can I help?’ And they really helped me.”
For nearly 50 years Gayles-Felton did the same for students at FAMU, a public, historically black university in Tallahassee where she was Undergraduate and Graduate Professor of Secondary Education and Foundations, College Supervisor of Interns, Director of Student Teaching, Curriculum Coordinator, and Head of the Department of Secondary Education and Foundations. Over time, she came to believe even more strongly in the need to engage students on a personal level.
“The biggest challenge facing our education system now is how to produce relevant learning experiences for the students of today, who are so different than those of yesterday,” she says. “Are you really getting to the core of what life is about for them? If not, you’re leaving them behind.”
Gayles-Felton retired in 2003, but still attends the meetings of professional organizations. In 2006, she was inducted into the FAMU College of Education’s Gallery of Distinction. In 2007, she received the meritorious achievement award from FAMU itself, the institution’s highest honor. She is also a Distinguished Member of the National Association of Teacher Educators and, in 2015, received TC’s Distinguished Alumni Award. And she remains passionate about supporting students. The proceeds from her 2002 book, The History of the College of Education – Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University: 1887-2000, have created and supported scholarships in FAMU’s College of Education. More recently she presented the check to TC President Susan Fuhrman for the new Anne Richardson Gayles-Felton Scholarship, joining a select group of donors who have planned for the College in their wills and also made outright gifts to create scholarships that will benefit students right now. The first beneficiary of Gayles-Felton’s generosity is Curriculum & Teaching doctoral student Angel Acosta.
“Some people think I’m nuts giving away all this money, but I want to do it, and I enjoy it because my grandma had the spirit of helping those who needed help,” she says. “That’s what my grandma and my whole family are all about.”
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