PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – An Excellent Educator in Norfolk truly puts meaning into the words “going the extra mile.” She logs triple digits on the odometer every day, and not just to get to her 3rd grade class.

“I always wanted to be a teacher. I always knew that,” said Torsha Lee.

Now in her 6th year at Norfolk’s Coleman Place Elementary, the last three as a teacher. Lee has worn a few different hats, and put in thousands of miles, so to speak, to get to the head of this 3rd grade class.

“Unfortunately, I went to college when I was 16 and when I got to college, because I had so much freedom,
I played around. My parents pulled me out of college,” Lee said.

She held onto her dream of teaching, but then was told she had to pay her own way through college.

“I got my Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) and I drove a school bus and went back to Norfolk State.”

Lee also volunteered, then signed on as a substitute teacher at Coleman Place Elementary.

“And then we fell in love with her and offered her a long-term sub position,” said Coleman Place Elementary
Principal, Dr. Pamela M. Tatem.

Tatem said parents started to request Lee as their child’s teacher. “They didn’t realize she wasn’t a (certified) teacher; she was still a substitute for us.”

“And we started looking at her transcript and we figured out that she was actually able to teach, but she needed some courses,” said Tatem.

During this time, Lee qualified as a paraprofessional in the Special Education department for one year. “And that’s when we got word that she could be provisionally certified.”

Dr. Tatem calls Lee a “pandemic teacher.”

“She came on when the pandemic hit,” said Tatem. “She had to learn to teach virtually.”

So, in the midst of the nightmare of the COVID pandemic, Lee had achieved her dream.

But, wait, there’s more.

“We were short bus drivers in the district and we found out she had a CDL and she answered the call without even me asking,” said Dr. Tatem.

Lee first drives to Norfolk, from her home about 30 miles away in Smithfield.

“I drive an hour and, sometimes, 15 minutes…”

After arriving at Coleman Place, Lee picks up bus #286 and gets out to start picking up children.

The transportation department remains short-handed, so Dr. Tatum said Lee’s now doing three runs a day. That’s three trips from the school, and out to Norfolk neighborhoods, to pick up students.

Meantime, Dr. Tatem said staff monitors and prepares her 3rd graders. After the last trip, and a quick break, “She runs up those stairs and jumps right in.”

“I like to see the ‘lightbulb,'” said Lee. “I like when I have scholars in class (have a problem) that’s kinda confusing, I can sit down and do a one-on-one with them and they get it and they’re like ‘Aw, Ms Lee! That’s how you do it!!'”

And after she and her students have been busy learning for about seven hours, it’s back on the bus for her three round trips to drop the homebound boys and girls off at their respective stops.

Lee said when she eventually gets home, sometimes after 5 or 6 in the evening, she has support from her 17-year-old son, and long-distance love from her 27-year-old daughter, a doctor in the Navy. Lee said the children’s father has been a good supporter and provider over the years.

As for Coleman Place students and staff, Lee considers them family, too.

“She has personal connections with some of the children in her classroom, outside of the walls of Coleman Place Elementary,” said Dr. Tatem. “And, had it not been for her and that relationship, I don’t know where a couple of them would be. So, we are thankful that she can connect with our children and their parents in that way.”