SAVANNAH, Ga. - Jannis Glover stands in her classroom doorway as bleary-eyed sixth-graders file by, say "Good morning, teacher" and take their seats - it looks like a typical early morning middle school scene.
But there's nothing typical about Ms. Glover.
She spent 11 years working as a paraprofessional, struggling to make ends meet and dreaming of a more fulfilling future.
Then, nine years ago, she decided to stop dreaming about academic and professional fulfillment and start pursuing it. She became a certified teacher through the Pathways to Teaching program at Armstrong Atlantic State University in 1997 and this summer earned a master's degree at Oxford University.
"Most people take the easy road, and it's not like her to take the easy road," said Shuman Middle School guidance counselor Johnnie Holmes. "It would have been very easy for her just to go from here to Statesboro. But she went all the way to England."
Ms. Glover had big plans. She started pursuing a degree in music but decided what she really needed was a husband and a family.
"I wanted the whole white-picket-fence thing," she said.
By 1983, she was raising a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old on her own.
She took a job as a paraprofessional and worked beside teachers at the old Barnard Street School and Heard, Hesse, East Broad and Bartow elementary schools. But it wasn't enough for her professionally or financially.
Teachers and administrators encouraged Ms. Glover to go back to school and become certified to teach. They were constantly sending her scholarship information. But with two mouths to feed, she didn't want to give up her income, even if it was just enough to get by.
But hope came in the form of a new husband and a special teacher certification program at Armstrong.
In 1988, she married Donald K. Glover. In addition to their traditional vows, Ms. Glover pledged to support his wife's educational ambition.
Within a few years, she started hearing about the DeWitt Wallace-Readers Digest Pathways to Teaching program - a new project at Armstrong Atlantic State University designed to help noncertified school employees like her to become teachers.
Ms. Glover was enrolled in Pathways from fall 1994 to June 1997. It was tough being the oldest person in her classes, she said. But not nearly as hard as working full-time, going to school and maintaining a household. Many times she went to work at 7 a.m. then went to college after work, studied after her classes and sometimes didn't see her family until 11 p.m.
"I watched the kids, I did all of the cooking and washing and cleaning, and I worked, too," Mr. Glover said, adding that he gained a bonus. "I learned how to cook, though. Now the kids will only eat my cooking."
During those hard times, Ms. Glover dealt mainly with her schoolwork and the guilt.
"It was probably the toughest thing I've ever done in my life," she said. "But the Pathways program was a gift from God. Not only did it pay for tuition and books, but it provided me with moral and spiritual support."
Ms. Glover managed to graduate magna cum laude in 1997.
It seemed as if she had finally made it.
As a language arts and reading teacher at Shuman Middle School, she received the Savannah-Chatham County Sallie Mae First Class Teacher of the Year Award in 1998. She also went to Norway to present a paper at the 11th European Conference on Reading and her work was published.
She had come a long way, but she still felt as if there was more for her to do.
"It wasn't enough," she said. "You just can't sit on one achievement and say that's it. There's a whole big world out there."
Energized by the Pathways program and inspired by a family of educators, including her mother, three sisters and brother, she decided to pursue a master's degree.
"After she got her degree and started teaching, she said she wanted to get her master's degree, and I said uh-oh," her husband said. "But my advice is for any husband whose wife wants to go back to school is that it's going to be rough at first. But if you love her enough to support her, then do it."
Through her Pathways program mentor, Evelyn Dandy, Ms. Glover connected with the Bread Loaf School of English Summer Graduate program at Middlebury College in Vermont. That program is also funded through The DeWitt Wallace Fund.
Ms. Glover was encouraged to apply to their five-year summer study program. She was accepted to complete her degree at Oxford University's Lincoln College.
Every summer for five years, Ms. Glover traveled to Oxford, England, to study.
This summer, she earned a master of arts degree at Oxford University's Lincoln College. The graduation ceremony was in Lincoln Chapel in Oxford.
"Since she has returned, we're expecting big things from her," Ms. Dandy said. "She will be able to widen the horizons for so many children."
But her dream hasn't ended. Ms. Glover is planning to pursue a doctorate degree.
"My long-range goal is to teach at the college level," she said.