Monday, May 3 to Friday, May 7 is the annual Teachers Appreciation Week where people take the time to thank all that teachers have done for the students in our community. Overlapping that is Nurses Weeks from Thursday, May 6 to Wednesday, May 12 where people celebrate all that nurses around the world do for their communities. It’s a true sacrifice to give back to the community when you’re just one of these professions, it a whole other thing when you’re both.
Renee Sells became a teacher in 1975 where she taught at a variety of elementary schools across Southwest Arkansas, teaching in Emmet, Ashdown and Hope until 2005.
“When you teach in elementary school, those are the formative years,” Sells said. “You’re training them and forming their minds. They are like sponges, whatever you’re saying, they’re just soaking it all up.”
Becoming a teacher was basically a given for Sells as nearly everyone in her family were teachers as well
“My parents were teachers and my sister is a teacher,” she said. “This is all I knew to do. I knew when I graduated that I needed to be a teacher.”
And that’s exactly what she said, but it was during her off time and breaks from the school year that she fell in love with her other passion.
“I worked as an aid during the summer, after school and during Christmas holidays at a nursing home or, eventually, at a hospital,” she said. “I just like being with the people and helping them. I just enjoy it. This is something that I found out that I liked when I took that 2nd job. It made me want to go further and that’s why I went to nursing school. It’s just a good feeling to help people, sometimes at their lowest point.”
Sells left teaching in 2005, but she still works for Hope Public Schools as the district nurse, where she has worked at for the past 16 years. She works during the school day until school lets out at 3:20, but she doesn’t go home after that. Sells has a second job as the Evening House Supervisor at Wadley Regional Medical Center here in Hope where she has worked at for the past 35 years. She works there directly after her job at the High School from 4 until midnight.
“I love it,” she said about working both jobs back-to-back. “This is my 42nd year doing both of them and I love both of them. I’m a workaholic so this is what I do. This is just normal for me.”
Before Sells took that job as the District Nurse in 2005, she worked as a nurse and a teacher at the same time.
“I’ve always worked after school at a hospital or a nursing home,” she said. “So I’ve always done this. Worked during the day at the high school and then work in the evening at the hospital.”
What drives Sells to do both? The feeling of helping others.
“The whole teaching-nursing relationship had me blessed because I had the best of both worlds,” she said. “It didn’t take a whole lot when I left teaching to change into a scrub suit and become a nurse because when people are sick, they’re in need too.”
Sells being both a nurse and a teacher meant that she would end up teaching the children she would see be born in the delivery room.
“I’ve seen people come into the world and eventually I got to teach those children, I got to teach their parents, and I even started to teach their grandchildren too,” she said. “In a service for people, you want to help people and both of the professions are wonderful to be able to do that. Both of those professions, they both intertwined and just became one to me.”
Sells recognizes that this past year with the COVID-19 pandemic brought a lot of stress to both professions.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said. “This is my 38th year as a nurse and just the way COVID evolved and what it did to people. It was so uncertain. You had to be so careful. I just feel like this was the year if we haven’t been here on campus for our kids and our faculty, things would’ve been very bad. We were able to make a difference. It was just like nothing I have ever seen before.”
While she’s not teaching anymore, Sells feels for all the hard work teachers had to go through to be able to teach their student during this time.
“These teachers that came in everyday this year, you had to be dedicated to do that,” she said. “To be a nurse in this type of situation in this type of pandemic, you had to be dedicated and had to have a love of people and want to help and want to serve. Some of the teachers, they had to help sick students too.”
Despite the hardships both nurses and teachers had to go through during the past year, Sells sees the light at the end of the tunnel.
“We’re all rejoicing now because to me it’s getting better, it’s not over, but it’s a nice time to celebrate,” she said.
When looking back at her time as both a teacher and a nurse, Sells only views it as having the best of both worlds.
“That’s the only way I can describe it,” she said. “I was put into a position where I can help people; to heal the mind and the body.”