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DARRELL HUCKABY: Post-retirement reminder of why teaching matters

I have spent almost a year now trying to convince myself that I didn’t miss the classroom. Truth be known, there are a lot of things about modern education that I really don’t miss — and I have certainly enjoyed my first 10 months of retirement. Let’s just say that I have found a few ways to keep busy.

But this week I have really realized just how much I really do miss teaching the history of our country to really smart teenagers — and how much I have missed the camaraderie that comes with trying to negotiate the minefield between August — or is it July, now — and the end of May.

I had occasion to visit Heritage High School, where I spent 15 or 16 of my best teaching years, on Monday. The hallways still seem so familiar and as dozens of kids, many of whom I never even taught, stopped to say hello or offer a hug, I realized that I was as at home in the hallways of Heritage High School as I had ever been — anywhere.

As I peeked into the rooms I meandered past I saw the thing I miss more than anything else about the job I did for 39 years — the interaction between teacher and student. Some faces were intense, others seemed a bit bored and in most rooms there were smiles on the faces of teacher and student alike. In those rooms the discovery had been made that learning is not drudgery, but can be fun.

I found myself wishing that I was once again behind my blue podium with the dozens of pictures of my former pupils — telling a story or singing a song or trying to make my students understand why it is so important to understand where we have been as a country. I envied my old colleagues — Scott Wade and Peggy Hanahan and her son Marion — because they didn’t have time to stop and exchange greetings. They were far too busy — teaching. I wished that I was busy teaching, too.

Then Tuesday evening, for one last time, I experienced the unique honor of attending the Rockdale County Honor Student/Teacher Awards assembly. I don’t know how long ago this institution was created but it is one of the coolest things that happen each year in Rockdale County.

The top 10 students in the sophomore, junior and senior classes of each of the four Rockdale high schools — Salem, Heritage, Rockdale and the Magnet School for Science and Technology — come together to be recognized for their outstanding academic achievement. Understand this — no matter how education may have changed and no matter how much emphasis has been put on standardized testing, if you are one of the 10 students in your particular class with the highest academic average, you are one special cookie.

We’re not talking top 10 percent, understand. We are talking top 10 people.

Seeing all of those outstanding scholars gathered in one place makes a person realize just how lucky we are to live in a community where scholarship is still appreciated.

Each student gets to pick one teacher to honor — a teacher who has had a “significant impact” on that student’s academic career. Teachers and civic organizations can vote and hand out awards all day. To be chosen by a student as a person who has made a difference in their life is as good as it gets.

I have been fortunate enough to have been selected honor teacher by some wonderful young men and women over the years. When you show up at the awards ceremony you have no idea which student has chosen you, and it is always a humbling experience to hear your name called.

As I sat on the stage with my fellow teachers I was so proud to be among them. There were veterans like Carol Ingle and Jim Hauck — my friends and colleagues for so many academic campaigns. There were people whom I considered my protégés, like Patrick Kicklighter, who made it possible for me to hang on for a couple of extra years when I really probably shouldn’t have been hanging on. It did my heart good to see Patrick become an Honor Teacher for the first time. It won’t be the last.

There were people like Joanna Anglin. I watched her enter the profession and have seen her grow into one of the best there is at what she does. There were even several people being honored that I once taught and coached — including Rich Autry, who is the superintendent of the whole school system. He does a dang good job, too.

So I sat on the stage and counted my blessings and knew that if I had the chance, I would do it all over again. Once again, I was reminded that my cup runneth over.