CONYERS — Written in pencil in her big first-grade handwriting is Allison Dunlop’s answer to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” She wrote that she wanted to be a teacher because she wanted to grade papers.

“I wish I knew then what I know now…” Dunlop says, breaking off into laughter.

Her mother saved that childhood paper and now fresh from her retirement celebration, Dunlop says her dream never changed from those first-grade words. She always wanted to be a teacher — but grading papers turned out not to be her favorite part of the job.

“I knew I wanted to teach elementary kids,” she said. “I love to see that sparkle in their eyes when they learn something.”

The passion Dunlop still has for a career she enjoyed for 34 years is rivaled only by the joy her younger daughter expresses as she gets ready to teach for the first time.

“I’m excited — so excited,” Abbey Dunlop said. “I cannot wait to get into the classroom. I feel like my college classes have really taught me how to be ready.”

In fact, when school begins next week, Abbey Dunlop will be walking the same halls her now-retired mother just left. Allison Dunlop taught at C.J. Hicks Elementary for 12 years before joining the first staff to work at Lorraine Elementary when it opened in 1996. At the school retirement party this spring, four out of five retirees were known as “Lorraine Originals.”

Named Lorraine’s Teacher of the Year for 2016-2017, Mrs. Dunlop was a finalist for Rockdale County’s Teacher of the Year.

Now her daughter Abbey begins teaching at the school she attended from kindergarten through fifth grade.

“This is really a dream come true,” Abbey Dunlop said. “Teaching in the same school I grew up in is so special. I feel so comfortable in that environment … My mom has taught there for so many years, and I know most of the people. It’s all I can hope for my first year of teaching … I feel like I will be able to excel and be the best I can be for my first year.”

Her mother is proud — and wants to help.

“It’s kind of hard for me to stand back,” Allison Dunlop says. “That mama instinct takes over. I’ll say, ‘Now, Abbey, I think … ’ She says, ‘Now, mom. I have my own ideas.’ She went from kindergarten to fifth grade there and my other daughter, Claire, went from third through fifth at Lorraine. It’s just been really cool and neat and just very unusual. That doesn’t happen often.”

Claire Dunlop Malyshev graduated from Salem High School and the University of North Georgia before getting her first teaching job also at Lorraine Elementary. She was there two years before leaving to teach at other area schools. Recently married to Oleg Malyshev, the couple lives in Blairsville where Claire is hoping to teach in a school there.

Her younger sister is now following in her footsteps and those of their mother as she welcomes her first class of third-graders — the same grade her mother taught most of her years in the classroom.

“The most memorable year for me was third grade,” Allison Dunlop said. “It’s funny because I’m now teaching third grade.”

She said she remembers enjoying learning the multiplication tables that year and says it gave her a love of math that stayed with her throughout her middle and high school years. Abbey Dunlop went to General Ray Davis Middle School before graduating from Heritage High School in 2014. While at Heritage, she was a cheerleader and a stand out on the soccer field. She got a scholarship to Piedmont College where she played soccer all four years before graduating in May.

It was while at Heritage High School that Abbey Dunlop met her boyfriend, Joseph Switay, now a student at Georgia State University. Switay’s mother April Switay said when she learned Abbey was going to teach at Lorraine, she thought it was such an “uplifting cool story.”

“It’s just really nice,” Mrs. Switay said. “They’re paying it forward and they have the love of teaching.” She also commented on what she called a “wonderful pattern” in that Abbey and Joseph met at Heritage as did Abbey’s parents.

“My husband and I rode the same school bus,” Allison Dunlop said. “We met on the school bus going to Heritage High School. We had our first date 40 years ago.”

The Dunlops recently celebrated their 34th wedding anniversary. In addition to daughters Claire and Allison, they also have a son Dustin, who lives in Indiana.

“My husband, David, works for Georgia State,” Mrs. Dunlop said. “He doesn’t teach. He’s in IT, a technology guy. But we’re all involved in education.”

Allison Dunlop graduated from Heritage High School in 1980 and went to Georgia State University where she got her degree in teaching before receiving her master’s degree from Walden University. Throughout her years in the classroom, she said there have been many funny and interesting moments, such as the time she was teaching in one of the trailers at another school and a policeman knocked on the door. He asked if she had called him and she said no, but then invited him in to speak to the students, who were delighted.

There was also the oldest living goldfish anyone could remember. It was her class fish and the children named it Goldie. As students graduated from elementary, then middle and high school and went on to college, Goldie kept swimming in Mrs. Dunlop’s fish tank. That fish lived for 17 years. She also recalls the many children she taught and says each year they made her laugh with the funny things they said and did, leaving her with so many happy memories.

“I’ve been teaching at Lorraine since 1996,” Mrs. Dunlop said. “I taught third grade and then the last two years, I taught second grade. I think it’s kind of rare because nobody stays anywhere for that long of a time … I love Rockdale County. I’m home here. I still have lots of friends here, and I love everybody I teach with. I never lost the love for it.”

She said she retired because she needed more time to care for her mother. However, Mrs. Dunlop said she is not totally leaving the school. Recently, Principal Dr. David Ray offered her the part-time position of teaching math in Lorraine’s early intervention program this fall.

“Dr. Ray and our assistant principal, Linda Smith, are both just fabulous,” she said. “They make it easy. They are so understanding and make it fun for the teachers. They bend over backwards to support us. The kids are fabulous too and just make me laugh. I just love teaching. I just can’t quite stop yet.”

Beth Slaughter Sexton is a freelance writer based in Walton County. Contact her at bethslaughtersexton@gmail.com.

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