By Cathy Spaulding
Phoenix Staff Writer
FORT GIBSON — Middle school students sometimes ask Dena Longpine what exactly she teaches.
Longpine is listed as a special education teacher, but she says she seeks to teach all the students.
“I’ll help any kid, not just the special education kids,” Longpine said. “I help all the kids, just like any teacher does.”
This commitment helped Longpine be named Fort Gibson’s 2013 Teacher of the Year.
“She has a heart for kids,” said Fort Gibson Middle School Principal Greg Phares said.
Longpine, 48, would agree. She recalled discussing her education philosophy with her college instructors.
“I love education and I love kids. When I no longer love kids or love education, I’d go somewhere else,” she said.
Longpine has been sharing this love at Fort Gibson for 13 years. She first taught at Fort Gibson for a few years in the 1990s, but left to take care of her younger daughter.
“When she went to school, I did too,” Longpine said, adding that she returned to teaching in 2004.
“I like what the school stands for,” she said about Fort Gibson. “We not only want to look good, we want to be good. I’m proud to be a part of it.”
She said she works with so many other outstanding teachers at Fort Gibson.
Longpine assists with inclusive classes, which have both special education and non-special education students. She says it’s a good setup.
“I like the way it doesn’t draw attention to my students as much,” she said. “A lot of the non-special education students I’d see at Walmart, I’m their teacher too.”
English teacher Michele Underwood said Longpine is very patient with all the kids.
“She explains it when I can’t,” Underwood said.
Longpine teaches a study skills class for special education students. She said the class helps them get organized.
“A lot of time, they get behind in their homework and it snowballs into other problems,” she said.
She also does after-school tutoring for anyone needing help.
Longpine said she did not set out to teach special education. She wanted to coach basketball and teach science.
She grew up in the small northeast Oklahoma town of Wann.
“The school’s not even there anymore, it got consolidated into Oklahoma Union,” Longpine said. “I always loved school, but I had some teachers I knew I could do a better job than.”
However, she recalled three teachers who meant a lot to her: Leroy Baker, who taught business and coached basketball; Stephen Colclasure, who taught math and coached basketball, and Sissy Slaughter, who taught English.
“Two of them were very caring and one was very disciplined,” she said. “I just hope I got a little bit of good from each one.”
Longpine said she agrees that teaching is a calling, not a job.
“I totally believe that, because if it’s just a job to you, you’re not going to like it,” she said. “I tell my students ‘when I get you, you’re part of my family. I’m not going to give up on you.’”
Reach Cathy Spaulding at (918) 684-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meet Dena Longpine
EDUCATION: Education degree at Northeastern State University, 1989.
PROFESSION: Teaches special education and conducts after-school tutoring at Fort Gibson Middle School.
FAMILY: Two daughters, Leah and Kelsie.
CHURCH: New Life Center.
HOBBIES: “Now, my hobbies are chasing my daughter on her activities. She is in band and swimming.”