Back at it

By Joe Rector

Well, I don’t believe it. I left teaching in 2008 and vowed that I’d never again darken the doorway of a classroom. In August, I began substituting at a few schools. Before long, I was working four days a week. The work was easy, and the pay was better than at other places I’d worked part time. This was the perfect job for me; I worked when I wanted to and turned down days when other appointments or things required my attention. I also made new friends and enjoyed being with them.

In the fall, the superintendent of Knox County Schools contacted me to ask if I would be interested in serving as a distinguished professional at Byington Solway Career and Technical Center. After much consideration, I accepted the position that would begin the second semester of the school year. The first day came, I walked into the building, and BAM! I was back at it.

This go-round, teaching is much different. The class is newly created and plans were finalized after scheduling was completed. Guidance counselors from Karns, Hardin Valley, Powell, and Bearden weren’t aware of the opportunity for their students. The result is that the class size is tiny. For the first time in my teaching career, I have the chance to do a great deal of one-on-one teaching. In some ways, this kind of class is much more difficult, especially since my entire career has been centered on managing 30 or more students.

Each day I work with two classes: a junior and senior English class. The day starts at 8:00 a.m., and by 11:00 o’clock, I’m finished for the day. How strange it feels to walk out the door and to head for home before noon. One reason I took this job is that I knew I could survive anything for such a short period. The rest of the day is available for completing “honey-do’s,” beginning projects, or making appointments.

Even though many things are different, I still have the same responsibilities. My first worry about this job was whether or not I could handle a classroom again. In those past years, I had no problems with most students; they agreed, some grudgingly, to let me be in charge. I never worried about teaching the material or preparing students for tests and college. Now, I fret about being able to meet the standards that are placed on teachers. Above all else, I worry that my students wouldn’t pass end-of-course exams or mandated tests.

I also wondered whether or not I could communicate with teenagers. The last full time contact I had with them ended in 2008. I’m ancient by their standards, and it’s for sure I don’t understand their ways, music, or language. Being viewed as grandparent who was taking up space in a classroom was the last thing I wanted.

After all the worrying, I’ve settled into this new-old role. Kids are still kids. They have different things in their lives, but for the most part, they are like earlier generations of teens. We’ve come to an understanding of what I will and won’t allow during class periods. They have begun the study of literature, and the importance or writing and proper grammar usage is constantly voiced. Students are writing the same kinds of papers that previous classes have written; they are still struggling with using commas and making a singular indefinite pronoun agree with the verb or antecedent.

I’m as determined as I was during a full-time teaching career to prepare students to write well in any situation. The standards are still filled with high expectations for them. The difference is that I feel much more “laid back” now. Some things in English are universally important. Other items are of little value and will be soon forgotten, so why should I smother students with them? Yes, we read literature, but the outside reading will be books that are interesting to them. The topics for papers will be centered around the life experiences of students. If one person is taking carpentry, he will enjoy writing about some area of that skill more than about some piece of literature that comes from the Renaissance. Isn’t that what education is about: preparing students for their future lives?

At any rate, I’m back at it. I swore when I retired that I would never be back. What’s the old saying “never say never?” The truth is that I enjoy the work, as long as there’s not too much of it. If I have to work and can’t find a job writing, then this is the second-best choice. From now on, I won’t pledge to never return. Instead, I’ll take things one year at a time.

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