Published Sunday, March 03, 2013
By REBECCA LEFTWICH
Our parents stay with us forever, whether it’s green eyes from our mother’s side of the family or a love for butter pecan ice cream from our father.
Madras Middle School English teacher Tracey E. Pitts – who also is a writer, actor and director – has based an entire character, alter-ego Ms. Ivera T. Grundy, on her mother and grandmother.
“I’ve been doing her forever – she’s such a part of me,” said Pitts, who started visiting churches to perform in skits when she was a teenager. “We have a lot of comedians in our family, a lot of awesome ladies. I started acting like my mother and grandmother, and my family thought it was quite funny.”
Pitts’ mother, Ivera Terry Strozier Powell, sometimes objected to her daughter’s characterization of her and Pitts’ grandmother, Carrie Marie Standford Terry.
“She’d say, ‘Oh, no, that’s just over the top,’ but my brothers and cousins would say, ‘No, that’s you.”
Growing up, Pitts remembers her mom burning everything she cooked. On Powell’s 70th birthday, Pitts’ alter-ego drew big laughs from party-goers by recalling those days.
“My mother treated us like gods,” Ms. Grundy told the crowd. “She gave us three burnt offerings a day!”
Performing in church has always been important to Pitts.
“I consider myself a Christian comedian, so I keep everything I do real clean,” she said. “I think God has given me this talent and I don’t want to profane it in any way.”
That translates well to the classroom, where her students just never know who’s going to show up to teach their lessons.
“I do monologues all day long in class, which keeps them on task and keeps them laughing,” Pitts said. “You can reach kids you don’t normally reach through a character. There are kids with a lot of problems at home, but I keep things funny so they can concentrate and see there is a comical side to daily situations and then maybe they can see that hey, I can get through this.”
Pitts – a member of Who’s Who Among American Women in Education and Who’s Who Among American Teachers who has won awards for Christian playwriting – has degrees in theatre, middle grades education and psychology. She and her husband of more than 20 years, H. Leon Pitts Jr., are raising an 8-year-old nephew but have no biological children.
“I tell my students all the time, ‘You guys are my only children,’” said Pitts, whose Ms. Grundy has made appearances at Black History Month programs in Coweta County schools as well. “‘I’ve got to send you home and make sure you come back the next day so I can love you all over again.’ When they see you are sincere about them and their learning, they will want to please you. Once you form that bond and trust, you have them hooked.”
Out of character, Pitts said she is “pretty spoiled” but also prays she can do what is in her power to help other people.
“When I’m Tracey, just me, I can be pretty serious and emotional,” she said. “I love people so much I hate to see them hurt. I’ve been taken advantage of but it’s ok. I don’t hold any grudges.”
In the classroom – and in and out of character – Pitts uses current events to teach more than just the English language and literature.
“We’ll talk about sexting, for instance,” she said. “Is it illegal, and whose fault is it if kids are caught? I bring light to those types of articles because I want to make sure I leave something with the kids, something moral, even though they laughed. I’ve been doing that for almost 26 years, and I have had kids come back and say I’ve taught them not just about literature but about life.”