Full Circle: Hammond Alumni Who Have Returned as Faculty

Full Circle: Hammond Alumni Who Have Returned as Faculty

After college and graduate school, Hammond alumni go on to hold positions all over the country, However, a handful have decided that they would rather give back right where they started, and they return to teach at their alma mater. But what brought them back? Hammond alumni Mrs. Daniels, Mrs. Culler, and Mr. Simpson shared their stories and described how their Hammond experiences growing up compares with their experiences as a faculty. These three graduates each took different paths after graduation, but ultimately credit the teachers at Hammond for the huge impact they have had on their lives.

Mrs. Daniels (Class of 2011)

Mrs. Daniels works in the Hammond college counselling department, helping juniors and seniors through all aspects of the college application process. After graduating Hammond in 2011, she went on to attend Vanderbilt University before returning to Columbia to work at Hammond.

When asked about what made her time at Hammond so influential, Mrs. Daniels first acknowledged her teachers: “My teachers were without a doubt one of the very best parts of my Hammond experience. They inspired me to go into education, they challenged and empowered me, and I am still close to many of them today.”

Mrs. Daniels also reflected on how most of the teachers who taught her throughout high school–Dr. Ragan, Mr. McCormack, Mr. Lumpkin, Mr. Neal, Mr. Rice, Mr. Hillard, Ms. Khoury, Mrs. Fowler, Mr. Shepherd, Mrs. Riley–are still teaching at Hammond today, attesting to their passion for the school and its students.

As an Upper School student, Mrs. Daniels was extremely involved in the athletics and arts. Similar to many students today, she was often on campus from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

“My main areas of involvement at Hammond were Select Ensemble, competition cheer, varsity soccer, the spring musicals, student council, Ornithos, and other various clubs, organizations, and community service projects,” Mrs. Daniels said.

She added that although it may seem like she was a part of many clubs/organizations, she believes the clubs program at Hammond have improved a lot over the past decade. Dance Marathon, YIG, PPSC, and HLC are all relatively new programs that Daniels wishes she had been able to participate in.

As for advice for current students, Mrs. Daniels stressed the importance of taking advantage of the opportunities that Hammond has to offer. While attending Hammond, Mrs. Daniels traveled to Belize on the junior class trip; Germany, Austria, Italy, and Poland with Select Ensemble; and England and Scotland with the drama department. “These experiences instilled in me a lifelong love of travel, exploration, and cross-cultural connection and led me to study abroad twice in college,” said Mrs. Daniels.

The choice to come back to Hammond was an easy one for Mrs. Daniels: “Hammond has been an integral part of my life and my story since I was four years old. As soon as I realized that I wanted to be a college counselor, I knew I wanted to be in a school like Hammond.” Mrs. Daniels loves her position in the college counselling office and is glad she is able “give back to the school that has given so much to me.”

Mrs. Culler (Class of 2003)

Mrs. Culler came to Hammond in 5th grade and stayed until graduation. Her dad was a teacher at Hammond while she was in high school, before retiring after 20 years. She came back to Hammond and now teaches 9th grade History as well as the elective class History of Religion.

Mrs. Culler remarked on how one of the things that has stayed constant about the Hammond culture is the students’ relationships with their teachers. “The students at Hammond have always had really good relationships with their teachers. Mrs. Bickley was my 5th grade teacher who stayed with me throughout high school and even after I graduated. When I was looking for a job, she called me and told me there was an opening at Hammond, and that I should put my name in.”

She noted that student-teacher relationships like this are often rare, but the have always been normal at Hammond. “I think that that kind of relationship is really special. I don’t think we’d have as many alumni teachers as we do if the relationship that we had with our teachers hadn’t been what it was,” said Mrs. Culler.

As for academic rigor throughout the years, Mrs. Culler believes the school still adheres to the same high academic standards that were set early on. “I think that over the years, the rigor of classes has maintained, although we don’t read as much now as we used to,” Mrs. Culler said.

She did mention that the reading initiative has started to become a bigger part of the school over the past couple years, Culler pointed out that “[We] used to read books in English, and then on top of that [we’d] have a book to read on our own time that we’d have to write a report about by the end of the quarter.” Mrs. Culler did acknowledge, though, that students back then seemed to have a lot more time. Hammond wasn’t as good at athletics back then, and school got out earlier (at 3:05) in order to allow students to get extra help or participate in clubs before practices started at 4:00.

Mrs. Culler commended Hammond for sticking to its core values over the years: “The buildings have changed. The students have changed. But Hammond is still the same Hammond despite the massive world changes. Teachers like Dr. Ragan and Mr. Lumpkin are still here and passionate about the students.”

When asked what made her want to come back to Hammond, Mrs. Culler replied, “There was never a question. From the moment I decided I wanted to be a teacher in 5th grade, I knew I wanted to come back to Hammond.”

Mr. Simpson (Class of 1999)

 Mr. Simpson attended Hammond for 1st and 2nd grade, before leaving and coming back for 7th grade through graduation. He currently teaches 8th grade English, but he is planning on teaching 11th grade British Literature for the upcoming 2021-2022 school year.

When asked about what characterized his Hammond experience, Mr. Simpson detailed the impression that his teachers at Hammond had on him. “I had teachers that I was really fond of who showed me that you could have fun and learn at the same time,” said Mr. Simpson.

Mr. Simpson was especially influenced by Dr. Ragan: “because of a schedule quirk, I had [Dr. Ragan] for English my sophomore, junior, and senior years. He helped me realize there was more in me than I thought there was, and I’ve never forgotten that.”

Mr. Simpson did not originally plan on being a teacher at Hammond. “I was actually asked to sub for a senior English class for a couple months, and that was when I was like, ‘this is awesome, I want to do this’.” He has now been teaching at Hammond for many years, and his favorite thing about it is “the academic freedom we have in the classroom. I love the conversations with students. The right theme or topic can yield very memorable moments,” said Mr. Simpson.

If he could give any advice to his students, Mr. Simpson says he’d choose a quote from the running novel, Once a Runner: “‘You can remember it, but you can’t experience it again like this. You have to be satisfied with the shadows.’ It’s important to enjoy the moment and still be satisfied with what you have done in that moment.”