MARYVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Maryville Highschool’s treasured teacher shares how she’s kept going through 54 years of teaching and why she isn’t planning on slowing down any time soon.

Dr. Ferguson deserves the accolades she has received as a top-notch educator. Most of her 54 years in the classroom have been spent at Maryville High School, where she spent her own high school years in the 1960s. A stack of yearbooks in the library shows the popular teacher through the years.

“I just have a passion for teaching,” Ferguson told us. “I love young people. I like being busy. I feel like I’m making a difference.”

  • A photo of Dr. Ferguson appearing to sit the edge of a podium
  • A staff picture page in a year book including Dr. Ferguson's photo.
  • A photo of young Dr. Ferguson playing tennis
  • The page of a yearbook including pictures of the Tennis Club and a young Dr. Ferguson playing tennis.

Ferguson is the recipient of too many teaching awards to count. From Teacher of the Year to the National Teachers Hall of Fame, she was even featured in National Geographic as one of Disney’s Top American Teachers.

“One secret,” she said, “is to be willing to change and so, to change with the times.”

If one word defines her, it’s enthusiasm.

“Enthusiasm is the greatest asset in the world. It beats money, power, and influence,” she said, quoting Henry Chester.

“I tell the kids anything you do, go into this classroom, job, whatever, I don’t want to do this (attitude), but if you come in and think, ‘hey, what can I get out of this? How can I be involved in this?’ Pretty soon, you’re going to find out it isn’t boring at all,” she said.

Ferguson is known for challenging her students in her AP and College Prep English classes.

“I was really scared,” student Rowan Bayberry said, “because I’ve heard the class is really hard!”

But the classroom is inviting with posters of classic films that have cultural relevance.

“Most everything in here is stuff that I bought myself,” Ferguson said.

Dr. Ferguson and her husband Sam. (Picture courtesy of D., Ferguson)

That includes carpet for the room, because her students enjoy sitting on the floor in groups. Ferguson also bought her own whiteboard. She shares colorful mementos of her travels around the world, all designed to inspire. There’s something to learn on every wall and even the ceiling. Hanging overhead are the portraits of iconic writers painted by students.

As student Kinley Fry said, “She learns things from us, and we learn things from her, so it’s a really cool, relational classroom.”

At 74, this ball of energy says she has no plans just yet to retire.

“Everybody tells me you’ll know when you need to retire, and I don’t know it so I don’t think I need to,” Ferguson said, smiling.

Penny Ferguson and her husband Sam, a retired teacher, recently celebrated their 53rd wedding anniversary. They have two adult children and four grandchildren.