|2018 Recreation of Toy Caterpillar|
I haven’t always been a teacher, though I have been for most of my life. I can date my entrance into the ranks of professional teachers to 1965, but I became a teacher much earlier. I suppose I became a teacher the day I learned how to make a caterpillar toy from an empty wooden spool that once had sewing thread wound around it. Until then I was a learner, but having learned, I wanted to share my knowledge with others. Who knew, a simple homemade toy would jumpstart my desire to teach others?
I didn’t hold classes in toy making as a child, but whenever I learned how to make a kite, a sling, a slingshot, a willow whistle, or whatever else amused me, I wanted to show others how to do the same.
I have a lot of friends who don’t know I was once a real teacher. Even those who know I was once a math teacher perhaps do not know that teaching was a part of God’s plan for my life. I must admit, I did not know I was “predestined” to become a teacher, either, but clearly I was.
Something about science has always intrigued me. Maybe my 8th grade science teacher, Coach Carl Lowry (yes some coaches teach subjects other than history) played a role in my developing scientific interest. I surely learned a lot of general science in his class. By the end of high school, I had taken all the science and math courses offered at Pontotoc High School.
I left high school with a burning desire to become a chemist. That was before I ran into a stone wall as a college junior, something called Advanced Organic Chemistry. Organic Chemistry was bad enough, but Advanced Organic did me in. I took a WF (withdrawn failing) just to get of that class, one I had no hope of ever passing. Well, maybe had funds been unlimited I could have passed after a half-dozen or so attempts, but I was in college to get a job to make money after graduation, so I changed college majors from Chemistry to Math, something I could pass and one day get a degree. The result of changing my major was that I graduated roughly a semester later than I planned, and it was in August when I received my diploma.
Math degrees sometimes command jobs with high salaries, but that’s usually reserved for persons who graduated with high grade-point averages in Math. My math grades were at best mediocre. I know that revelation will disappoint my grandkids, who think I’m the smartest man alive. Sorry.
I mention graduation to note that at the end of September I was still looking for a job. My dad was co-owner and head butcher at the grocery store he ran. Among the many salesmen who stopped by for orders each week was a representative from Krey Meat Packing Co. who happened to be on the board of trustees at South Tippah High School, Ripley, MS. I regret I can’t recall his name right now. I suppose he knew my dad’s family well enough and had probably heard I was majoring in math at Ole Miss. The story, as my dad related it to me, was something like this:
Salesman: Didn’t your son graduate with a math degree?
Dad: “Yes, a little over a month ago, but he doesn’t have a job.”
Salesman: “We need a math teacher really bad in Ripley, and there seems to be a shortage of math teachers, statewide. Send him up there to talk to E. O. Rutherford.”
Dad: “Okay, but he didn’t major in Education, he has a Science degree.”
Salesman: “I don’t think that’s a problem. Please ask him to talk to the principal.”
I wasn’t too keen on interviewing for a teaching position in October of 1965, as I had taken no college subjects specifically needed by teachers. Nonetheless, I heeded my dad’s advice and acted on the suggestion by the board member and made my way to the Principal’s office that Friday.
I’m sure the board member had notified the Principal that a math teacher had been found in Pontotoc, as Mr. Rutherford was overjoyed when I arrived.
“Am I ever glad to see you,” he exclaimed when I told him who I was. “We’ve gone six weeks without a math teacher for our 8th and 9th grade students. It’s hard to find enough substitutes to have classes. Can you start next Monday?”
“Mr. Rutherford, I’ve not had any classes to prepare me to teach.”
“Son, don’t worry about that. You have a degree in mathematics. The State of Mississippi will grant you a certificate for one year. It can be renewed each year until you complete all the required educational courses for a teacher’s license.”
I “worked off” the education requirements by attending college courses over the next three or four summers, first at Blue Mountain College and then at Ole Miss.
You might find it interesting that after my third day of teaching, Mr. Rutherford brought a young lady to my room, Laura Grisham, a student at Blue Mountain College, and introduced us. She was to be a “practice teacher.” She was there to observe my students and me for a fixed number of weeks and then to teach my students while I did the observing. It wasn’t exactly a case of the blind leading the blind, but it was close. Luckily for Laura, she was able to observe and learn from Mr. Herman Clemmer, who taught the higher grades and had more than thirty years of teaching experience.
There’s a reason I stated in the beginning paragraphs of this story that I was predestined to become a teacher. I say this, not so much that teaching provided me with a living wage and my first job after my college years, but to note that as a teacher in the city of Ripley, MS, I was in the right place at the right time for me to meet the young woman whom God had selected to become my wife, Barbara Anne Crouch.
My career as a teacher was relatively short. I taught in Ripley for five years, one year at Algoma High School, Algoma, MS (the last year before Pontotoc County schools consolidated to form North Pontotoc and South Pontotoc attendance centers), and I wrapped up my career as a math teacher with a year at Pontotoc High School.
My professional teaching career ended in 1972, but opportunities to teach others continue to this day. In 1972 and 1973 I sold office machines and usually had to train business persons on the features and functions of electronic calculators, copiers, and electronic typewriters.
Starting in August of 1973 I re-entered the grocery world I had grown up in, and I became a butcher for a local supermarket and would soon become the manager of the Meat Department. Trust me, managers get to do a lot of teaching.
Nine years later, I was promoted to meat supervisor for a group of retail supermarkets supplied by SUPERVALU, Indianola, Mississippi.
By 1989, personal computers were becoming affordable for small businesses and individuals, and a position in Retail Technology opened at SUPERVALU. I applied and was hired as manager of the Retail Technology department and had two individuals who reported to me. I was given a mandate to “learn the ropes” within six months; somehow I learned enough to continue in the department until my retirement in 2010, twenty-one years later.
My job with SUPERVALU was a mixture of sales and teaching. Retailers were anxious to purchase technology in order to increasing pricing and labeling accuracy, and along with those purchases store personnel had to learn how to use the new technology, which went hand in hand with my background as a teacher.
As you can see, my teaching career has been long and varied, and I’ve not mentioned my years of teaching children, young people, and adults at First Baptist Church in Pontotoc, or my current job of teaching my grandchildren the important things in life such as, don’t mess with spiders and snakes, fire is hot, ice is cold, playing in the street is dangerous, etc. I considered starting a class, “Why Grandpa Is NOT The Smartest Man In The World,” but they’ll eventually figure it out on their own.
“Teaching is the mental equivalent of riding a bicycle, in that having done so, one never forgets how.” ~ Book of Wayne