My heroes have always been teachers
Here in East Tennessee, where the temperature has exploded during the just-arrived August (capital A for sure) dog days of summer, teachers are returning to school.
It got me to thinking.
One of these days, if the stars align, I'm going to steal the education beat back from Sandra Clark at the newspaper. It's long hours (I still have flashbacks to four-hour school board meetings and scream in horror), it's complicated, you sometimes have to write things you don't particularly enjoy, but it's a passion. So it doesn't always feel like work.
I come from a family of educators. My grandfather got his degree in his 40s and taught welding at the old Doyle High School. My aunt was a longtime social studies teacher and is now a supervisor. My stepfather was an English teacher at Halls High and Farragut High for awhile. My mom would've been an English teacher in another time. My sister is the principal at Clinton Elementary.
And I set out to be a history professor before I got sidetracked into this grand adventure herding words.
Many of my friends are good educators.
And I owe all the gold in California to so many good teachers. I was a blessed boy.
I'm gonna leave somebody out, so forgive me in advance, but --
At Brickey: Sheena Beal, Loretta V. Black, Alma Williams (whom I didn't have in class, but became a special person in my life later), Brenda Miller, Lillian Shoffner, Terry Carr, Faye Nelson Heydasch, Jane Clift, Tommy Noe, Sue Heins (sic?), Joyce Hill, Mrs. Butler (I've forgotten her first name), Irene Patterson, and dear, sweet Virginia Rains, who let me write a story all week and read it to the class on Fridays, as well as Mrs. Bullen, Geneva Jennings, Maryann (Mary Ann?) Taylor, Michele Stidham, Mike Ogan, and our fearless leader, John R. "Second Daddy" McCloud.
At Halls Middle: Linda McCoig (whom I saw a few weeks ago!), Roy Andrews (who also encouraged me to write stories for the class), the late great Betty Reeves, Reba Thomas, Bill Warren, Missy Hensley, Dave Lewis, Donald Thorne, Sue Clapp, Cindy Smith Shepard, Don Yarborough, Pam Walker, the late great Elwood Pennington, Tim Wiegenstein, Mrs. (Barbara or Judy) Jordan, three super music teachers whose names, I apologize, I've forgotten, Becky Howell, Linda Nordmoe, and teachers I didn't have but got to know: Randy Bolinger, Scott Taylor, Susan Hibbett, the late Mike Rutherford, and, of course, principal Jim Ivey and a mentor in a special way, vice principal and hero Paul Williams.
At Halls High: Doug Bright, Mark Duff, Sharon McNeeley, Joanne Fehr, Ed Boling, Doug Polston, Sheri Webber, Barbara Jenkins, Denise Pennington, Mitch Hamilton, Ed Simmons (that impression of you was out of fondness, I promise), Cindy Beckman, Mrs. Jordan (pronounced Jer-dan, as in, yep, Auburn coach Shug Jordan's daughter-in-law), Cheri Duncan, Kim Smith, Stefanie White Henry (who, for better or worse, planted the newspaper seed), H.C. Sumter, Rusha Sams, David Sexton, Dink Adams, the late Bill Clabo, and so many others I got to know then or later -- Trina Polston (a major mentor in a special way), Tina Perry, Debbie Foster, Pam Riddle, David Wayland, Helen Goranflo, Jerilynn Harper Carroll, Gary Shephard, Kim Coker Hurst, Chris Vandergriff, Mike Blankenship, Marcia Southern, Merita Sesler (sic?), Charlotte Smith, and some names I'm afraid I'm forgetting.
At the University of Tennessee: Steve Ash, Lorri Glover, Paul Pinckney, Wayne Cutler, Chuck Maland, Dr. Y.P. Hao, Kathy White, Mark Williams, the late great Robert Drake, Michael Lofaro, a fascinating Shakespearean scholar whose name is lost in the mist of time, Bill Larson, Paul Jones, David Pegg, Elaine Oswald, and, again, some names I simply can't recall.
I've been so pleased to see so many friends and classmates go into teaching, and to have met so many wonderful educators, principals, school board members, supervisors, and others who work or worked downtown while I was covering education (and a great reporter, too -- my friend Lola Alapo). I'm not even going to begin to try to name them all, except four close friends -- Dean Harned, Dewayne Lawson, Dr. Bridget Trogden, and Tim Reeves. I could name 20 or 30 more.
If I've forgotten your name or to list your name, I'm sorry. My memory isn't too good right now, and, let's face it -- it has been 20 or 30 years (or more!) in some cases.
Teaching is a noble profession, an important one, so important, especially now in this dark and disturbing national zeitgeist. They get criticized by idiots who think they only work a short amount of time. They're not paid anywhere near what they're worth. They sacrifice time, money, hours otherwise spent with family, and a bunch of other stuff. I've seen firsthand as many of them anguished over problems or students or ideas about whom or which they cared, and about a hundred other things.
So many of these educators, those I met inside and outside the classroom, inspired me in ways both large and small -- whether it was to keep reading or to keep writing or, as cliched as it sounds, to keep learning. To keep thinking, to keep exploring, to never be satisfied, to dream big, to get up if I tumble. For better or worse, I am whatever I am in large part because of these dear people.
If the world was fair, good teachers would get paid millions of dollars and ball players would make $40,000 a year. Such is life.
I wish I could give you all more. All I can say is thank you, and I love you. It isn't much, but it comes from the heart.
You teach still.