I’ll be the first to admit that back in 1966 when I enrolled in the University of Georgia, I was a just a teeny bit naive. I expected to breeze through college as I had through high school, earn my degree, and go forth and teach classes of eager-to-learn students. I student-taught in Augusta at Richmond Academy under a supervising teacher who inspired terror in her students—and me, too, actually. Not once during my tenure in her classroom did I so much as ask a student to be quiet. Just her presence in the room kept them under control. I learned nothing about discipline. UGA didn’t teach me that either. When a small high school just over the South Carolina line called me and asked me to finish out the year for its French teacher, I was eager but innocent. That 1st semester of teaching taught me far more than all my education classes and student teaching put together.
My classroom had floor-to-ceiling windows big enough for students to leave through them if they chose; often they did choose, and they disappeared into the nearby woods to escape for the rest of the day. These were not the ideal students I had dreamed of. They didn’t want to learn French, or any other subject, for that matter, that I was willing to teach them. I had to learn instantly how to handle those students, and I couldn’t let one out of my sight for two seconds or he’d be out the window. It didn’t take too long to figure out why the French teacher left in the middle of the year.
I taught two lovely years in the hills of North Georgia in Dawsonville, one not-so-lovely year teaching math and social studies in eighth grade in a Vidalia school torn asunder with race problems, and four pleasant years in Hazlehurst. Then in 1984 I settled into Appling County High School, liked it there and stayed until 2011. Even last year I went back and taught one class. I was blessed to have a career that I enjoyed immensely for the most part, but according to the old English proverb, all good things must come to an end.
Several friends told me that I’d be really sad when school started back without me.
“When the school bus rolled by my house the first year of my retirement,” one friend said, “I cried. I was just overwhelmed with sadness. But don’t worry. After a few days you’ll be fine. Just get involved with the community. I’m busier now than I was when I worked full time.”
That statement bothered me just a bit. First of all, I don’t want to be busier in retirement than I was working, and I find that many of my retired friends are. That’s fine for them if they’re happy that way, but it’s not fine for me.
For 20 years I sang French Christmas carols, drilled dialogs, and practiced a foreign pronunciation with my students. I enjoyed my French years, as did most of my students. Then came the opportunity to practice my true calling—teaching English. True pleasure came to me when students had epiphanies in my classroom, when they finally understood difficult concepts of grammar or literature. And teaching students—and there were many—who love language as much as I do has been a wonderful experience.
A few weeks ago, I told Mr. Starr that I highly approved of a recently hired teacher because she is my former student and has a real flair for language. He smiled and said, “Well, you’ve been teaching so long that you’ve taught just about everybody in the county. I don’t know if I could hire anyone from Appling County that you haven’t taught.”
He may be right. My teaching days are over now though. I’ve passed on my red pens and grammar books. The school bus rolled past my house last Tuesday morning at its usual 6:30 a.m. and no sadness came with it. I felt no nostalgia. Truthfully, I didn’t feel much at all, but I may have rolled over in my sleep and smiled just a little.