Betty Evans, Retired 2015, Los Angeles County Office of Education
Art, dancing and newly adopted daughter keep this retired teacher moving
As a teacher and artist, Betty Evans was able to mix creativity into the curriculum for kids in juvenile hall. Now that she’s retired, a love of dance keeps her on her toes, art keeps her creative mind churning and her newly adopted 11-year-old daughter keeps her plenty busy!
Was teaching your first career choice?
Yes. I always wanted to be a teacher—ever since I was a little girl. I became a teacher right away when I graduated from college. It’s the only job I’ve ever had. My first job was with the Los Angeles County Office of Education as a special education resource teacher and I was with that same job for 40 years.
What motivated you to go into special education?
I had a younger brother and I would say he was probably autistic. But nobody really knew about autism back then and he was misunderstood. When he was 8 or 9, he was placed in a mental institution. He eventually ended up committing suicide when he turned 16. I was in college and that’s when I decided I wanted to learn more about special education. I believe that if they had the knowledge about autism back then, he would not have been placed in that kind of facility.
What challenges did you face as a special education teacher?
In 2008, I started teaching in the juvenile court system. I was working with kids who were considered high profile offenders. They were kids who had murdered people, committed heinous crimes and had done terrible things. I didn’t know how to relate to young people from that gang culture, so it was a challenge for me.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
I think working in juvenile hall was a big accomplishment. I’m a professional artist, so I started bringing art lessons into that facility and working with the kids. It was like art therapy for them. They don’t really get art in their curriculum, so I felt like this was a big accomplishment to be able to implement that.
I have a lot of letters from those kids thanking me for the art lessons and for teaching them to draw because it took some of the stress away from their life, and now they’re in prison and they’re drawing.
How did that make you feel to get those letters?
Oh, those letters made me feel just great that I made an impact on their life!
What kind of art did you teach in juvenile hall?
The boys were into calligraphy and gang graffiti and that type of thing. I showed them how to draw people and figures, animals and other different things. I also taught them how to paint. It was difficult to bring art supplies in because everything is contraband in jail—they could even make weapons out of paint brushes. But the guards allowed me to bring in paint and brushes and teach the kids how to paint. Those kids have a lot of talent. They were really able to produce some beautiful pieces of art.
There’s a statewide art contest for California school districts every year and no student from juvenile hall had ever submitted entries. My students were first ones to enter art pieces into that contest. One of the kids got an honorable mention!
Are you creating more art now that you’re retired?
Yes! I’ve always done art but it’s kind of hard when you’re working full time to really focus on it. So now I’m focusing more on my artist life since I’ve retired. I’m doing a lot of contests and festivals, and I’m selling a lot of art all of a sudden. I’m doing really well with the art right now because I have more time, of course!
I do mostly oil paintings and acrylics and mixed media. I do a lot of art with people in it and they’re always doing something happy.
Tell us about your dancing…
I competed in the 26th Annual World’s Largest Steppers contest in Chicago last September. That was a dream come true for me! I felt very blessed and happy to be able to participate in that contest. We didn’t win but I had a wonderful time just being there.
I didn’t take up dancing until my children left home for college. I love the dance culture and making friends. I always watch Dancing with the Stars and desired to be in a big contest like that. Just goes to show it’s never too late to make your dreams come true!
Tell us about your new daughter…
I was retired for just a few months and I realized that dancing and art wasn’t fulfilling me. I thought I would love to do nothing but paint and dance but that wasn’t the case. My four kids were all great kids and now they’re great adults. So I thought why not give a kid that opportunity since I have a house and I have plenty of room.
I knew that adopting a child was what I was meant to do because I didn’t have any doubts about it. She’s 11 and we have a lot of the same interests. She’s artistic and creative and likes music. She likes dance.
Being a mom to a young child again is a wonderful way to spend my retirement and I’m enjoying it. When I was raising my kids, I was always working and I was exhausted. But now that I’m retired, I’m enjoying being one of those moms who volunteers and goes on field trips.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Every day is like a new adventure since I have this child now and being in the dance world—there’s always something new going on, something exciting. I feel like a teenager, actually!
Teacher Talk is a series of profiles on California teachers and other educators. To be considered for a future profile, please email email@example.com, with Teacher Talk in the subject line.
This profile also appears in Retired Educator Summer 2017, as part of the “How Are You Spending Your Retirement” series. To share the exciting and interesting things you have done since retiring, email us at RetiredEducator@CalSTRS.com.