When I passed Sims Elementary School on my daily walk Monday, the parking lot was filled with cars. As I drove along Potts Road Tuesday, I found myself behind a school bus making a trial run. When I asked my buddy to meet me for a round of golf Friday, he reminded me that he had to report to school for the first day of pre-planning. The signs are everywhere. School is about to be back in session — but for the first time since 1958, I am not.
I still remember my first day of school as a student. My mama went in to work late so she could walk me to my classroom. I cried when she left, but my tears didn’t last long. When Miss Ruby Jordon sat us down in a circle and began reading to us about Mrs. Minerva and William Green Hill and Wilkes Booth Lincoln, I was hooked.
I still remember my first day of school as a teacher, too — but it is hard to believe that it was almost 40 years ago. I started out teaching life science to seventh-graders at Cousins Middle School and coaching football and basketball. No one ever enjoyed teaching and coaching as much as I enjoyed the years I spent at Cousins.
I began the day with a great class. Emmett Nolley and Homer Baumgardner and Tony Horton were in that class. So were Salena Roseberry and Florene Hurst and Greg Cowan and Shirley Hardeman and Walter Cowan. I am not sure I could name every child in the class off the top of my head, but if I had time to really think about it, I might could.
Honesty compels me to admit that when I first became an educator, my primary motivation was to be able to coach sports, and when I started out what happened in the classroom was secondary to what happened on the field or in the gym. I’m not the only person for whom that was true, but you’d be hard pressed to find many that would admit it.
Don’t get me wrong. I always tried to do a good job as a teacher and for the most part I think I did, but it took a few years before I realized that my priorities were a little “bassackwards” as my daddy would have said.
For the past 17 years, I have taught history in the Rockdale County school system. That two-minute commute has been hard to beat, and getting to teach the history of the United States, the greatest nation on Earth, to some of the greatest students on Earth has been a pure joy. I have had doctors and attorneys and Naval officers, and those who will be, along with teachers and nurses and entertainers and people from all walks of life. As the poet said, “Where else could I find such splendid company?”
I’ve seen every educational fad you can imagine come and go — from the ridiculous to the sublime — and have worked with many, many, many outstanding teachers and administrators — along with an idiot or two here and there — and have enjoyed almost every step of the journey.
But when my former colleagues head back to the classroom this Friday, I will not be among them. My time has come and, unfortunately, gone. I tried to retire two years ago, but it didn’t take. Last spring, I knew I would no longer be able to answer the bell when the new school year came. My body wore out before my desire to teach did. I will just have to get used to the fact that I am done.
I thought I would just go quietly into that dark night, but as the new term approaches and the realization that I would no longer be a part of it, I began to become a little melancholy and began to wish that I had done something to celebrate my retirement. After all, 39 years is a long time to do the same basic job.
I thought my kids and my lovely wife, Lisa, might throw a little shindig. Since they didn’t, I am planning my own celebration. I’m going to hang out at my home away from home next Thursday evening, Aug. 1, from 5:30 until 8 p.m. That would be Henderson’s Restaurant in Covington. Everyone is welcome to drop in and say hello, or goodbye, as the case may be. There won’t be a program as such, but I would be happy to see you, especially if you were a student or parent or co-worker. Sorry, it is a BYOF (buy your own fish) affair, but I’ll try to give you something sweet and I have a special gift for any former students who come by. This might make a few people stay home, but I will also be signing my books. All proceeds go to fight cancer.
Come on down, if you are of a mind. I’d love to see you. And when school starts back the following Monday — I guess I’ll just go fishing and try to forget that I can’t go, too.
Darrell Huckaby is a local author. Email him at darrellhuckaby.net. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.