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Adam’s Apples – Old teachers never die

By James Mack Adams

In his farewell address before a combined session of the United States Congress on April 19, 1951, General Douglas MacArthur said: “Old soldiers never die. They just fade away.”  Perhaps the same can be said for old school teachers. Being one of those old school teachers, I hope that is true.

A teacher’s legacy is his or her students. If you are reading this column, thank a teacher. If you can balance a checkbook successfully, thank a teacher.

Every time I power up the laptop to write a column or to work on any other writing project, I pay silent homage to my public-school English and Latin teachers. They mercilessly drilled their students on grammar, spelling, pronunciation, sentence structure and writing.  What I thought at the time was sure torture bordering on child abuse was well worth it. Over my lifetime, I have enjoyed the benefits.

My public-school teachers had such an influence on my life I can still remember the names of several of them. I remember Edith Cherry, Frances McCoglin, Lucille Whitmire, Lennie Blankenship, Rhoda Burke, Grace Elmore and others. I can also visualize their appearances.  They have all been gone for many years, but they live on in my memory. In my thinking, they never died. They just faded away.

The majority of my elementary and high school teachers were female and unmarried. That was just how it was in the teaching profession at the time. My first male teacher was the high school football coach. Their students were their families. Teaching was their calling and their life. They were for certain not in it for the pay or benefits.      

I entered the teaching profession later in life than most. My undergraduate degree from ETSC (now U) is in business administration. A teaching career was never a consideration during those early years.

Following six years active military service, I went to work for the state of Ohio as an administrative specialist in the data processing division and planned to follow that career path the rest of my working life. Then the Ohio Department of Education, and my schoolteacher wife, stepped in to convince me to change my plans.

In the 1960s, the Ohio governor and legislature began an ambitious state-wide program to make vocational education available to every student who wanted it. During the following decade, they built large vocational high schools and technical colleges throughout the state.

The new schools had to be staffed with teachers who were experienced and skilled professionals and tradespeople from many occupations. Most did not have college degrees.  They were required to earn degrees and qualify for full state teacher certification within a certain period of time after being hired.

My teacher wife, and others, encouraged me to apply for a teaching position in a new school being built in a nearby county. I was hired as a teacher of computer and related technologies and followed the profession until my retirement 22 years later. I have never regretted my choice.

U. S. Marines I have known insist there is no such thing as a former marine. “Once a marine, always a marine,” they say. I will say the same for teachers. “Once a teacher, always a teacher.” Many long-retired teachers just can’t seem to stop teaching. It is a common condition among members of the profession. I am a prime example. It is perhaps, in part, the reason I became a history reenactor and living history interpreter after leaving the classroom.

As a teacher, journalist and former monthly community newspaper editor, I have always been a word person. The aforementioned drilling by my English teachers is partly to blame. I have an uncontrollable urge to edit everything I read for spelling and grammar.  That includes newspapers, billboards and all other publicly displayed signs. During my teaching years, one of my favorite things to do when I got home from school on Thursday afternoons was to read the local weekly newspaper and circle the errors with my red pen.

If you have read many of my columns that appear in this space once a month, you know that at times I switch to my teacher mode. I plead no contest. Please bear with me. That is just part of who I am. It is part of my being.

I am reminded of another saying about teachers I once either read or heard. A play on General MacArthur’s words as it were. It might just bring a parting chuckle to the reader?

“Old teachers never die. They just lose their class.”

If you ever see that happening to me, please let me know.