Teacher role models: Job, Gen. MacArthur and dad

Cindy ArpPowell

Recently I ran across a letter my dad wrote to me in April 1973. I was graduating from UT and had been offered a position teaching 7th grade language arts at Powell Middle School. While glad I had a job, daddy, a veteran teacher, had hoped that my double major of English and library science would land me safely as the librarian in an elementary school.

The high school in which daddy taught recognized him as a person able to inspire problem students and also as the disciplinarian. Daddy had seen it all and he was not happy that I would be teaching in rough-and-tumble middle school.

Consequently, he sent an advice letter. At the end of the letter, he advised I have the patience of Job. Worried, daddy said things such as: “Maintain a military bearing.” and “You know that some of those students will be bigger than you.” I was happy/terrified concerning the beginning of my career, but told daddy teaching wasn’t hand-to-hand combat. Surely, I was larger than any 12-year-old, and I’d be fine.

That first year I discovered that occasionally teaching can offer hand-to-hand combat, several 12-year-olds are amazingly large, and daddy’s letter contained some good, solid advice.

Once a problem student named Kenny was kicked out of class and given to me. When Kenny got into a cafeteria food fight, he explained he was trying to eat some Jell-O. Somehow, he missed his mouth and the Jell-O inexplicably landed on another student’s face. I tried to remain patient.

Maintaining my military bearing helped me remain calm when two large boys starting fighting near another female teacher and me.

Shouting could have exacerbated the situation, but a calm, authoritative manner enabled us to gently pry one boy’s arm from another boy’s neck.

Advice from an experienced teacher is gold. Teachers helping other teachers “hold hands as we venture into the wilderness” creates a camaraderie that stabilizes one, helping one gain confidence, enabling them to reach for the creativity, insight and compassion that all good teachers must have.

Teaching is difficult, especially with the arbitrary moving-target goals constantly foisted upon teachers, but, if one can persevere, somehow move through all the teaching restrictions and criticism, one can find a joy in teaching.

There is the wonderful thrill when a lesson plan inspires the students, teaches them something, or, more likely, they teach you. When my mother passed away, on my first day back in the library, an entire class of first graders filed in, stopping to hug me and say, “I’m sorry your mommy died.” Young children’s compassion. While undoubtedly their amazing teacher, Mrs. Stover, told them of my mother’s death, the children’s hugs were spontaneous. I will remember that moment all my life.

For those of you willing to march onto the education battlefield, seek advice from the successful teachers. Know education is always a soft target, always under fire. However, those fires change with various administrations and, if you can stand it and find a way to teach through it all, the world needs good teachers.

Know that, with the patience of Job, you can make a difference and succeed.

Cindy Arp, teacher/librarian, retired from Knox County Schools. She and husband Dan live in Heiskell.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *