Bright-eyed freshmen, worldly sophomores, jaded juniors, sophisticated seniors and graduate students of all sorts arrived to sit at the feet of the wise, gather knowledge for knowledge’s sake and extend their adolescence a little longer before they are forced out into the “real world.”
I was there for 47 falls to help them, guide them, inspire them, bore them, scare them.
This year, I wasn’t.
This year, I am retiring.
It has been a good run.
In those 47 years I have taught at junior colleges, senior colleges, a regional state university and one of the Southeastern Conference’s best.
And though well more than half of those years were spent in some administrative capacity, I never considered myself an administrator. (I suspect that those for whom I administered and those who were administered by me never considered me much of an administrator, either.)
I always considered myself a teacher.
Inspired by teachers, I wanted to teach, which is why I never took an administrative position unless teaching was part of it. This also explains why I have not risen any higher in the administrative ranks. At a certain point, the administratively ambitious and able must face the fact that few can do both effectively. So they have to go with one or the other.
I stopped rising before I reached that point.
I am a firm believer in the “Peter Principle,” which holds that “employees tend to rise to their level of incompetence.” I soon realized the limits of my abilities (not to mention my ambition) and pulled up before I got in over my head.
Only once did my reach exceed my grasp. After a year on the job at a small junior college, I was “promoted” to “Director of Student Personnel,” sort of a demi-Dean of Students. After a year of dealing with student organizations, student complaints and student misadventures, I returned to the classroom, where I stayed.
So it follows that when I look back, I remember students.
That I can’t recall them all is understandable since, by my rough calculations, I taught during those 47 years more than 10,000 of ’em — give or take a few.
Do the math. Forty-seven years, 140 semesters or quarters, 420 classes, 25 students per class.
Nevertheless, I remember many. Some with whom I stay in touch — which is easier now thanks to email and Facebook.
They are scattered from California to New Jersey, from Canada to the Florida Keys. Their careers are as varied as they are. Some are in business, some teach, some work for a government agency. I am only aware of one who went to jail. A couple became preachers.
On the whole, the ones with whom I communicate have turned out to be good citizens. They have had some bumps along the way, but haven’t we all?
And I have lost a few, gone before their time.
If I could people a small town with my former students, I think it would be a good place to live. There would be decent schools. The yards would be well kept. Streets would be safe. In the churches, preachers would talk more about what people should do than what they shouldn’t. There would be lots to entertain both the young and the old. And there would be dogs.
“Mayberry” with a first-rate barbeque joint and a place to get wings, burgers and beer.
My students were not a bunch of nerds, geeks, goody-goodies. Living through the second half of the 20th century, they witnessed and took part in decades of doings that socially altered the nation. They were shaped by those years, and still are.
When my teaching career began, a war was raging in Vietnam. My students were affected by it. One lost his life there. However, that conflict was followed by one of the longest periods in American history when this nation was more or less at peace. The draft, which hung over many young folks like the sword of Damocles, was gone by the mid-1970s, and with it went much of the disaffection felt during the earlier era.
A calm settled on the campuses where I taught, and students went about doing what students had always done, just a little more openly, freely and, it seemed to me, joyfully. Maybe if TV did a remake of Happy Days, it would be about the ’80s, not the ’50s.
One day I may reflect on what happened to education during my 47 years out in it. I could write about how, despite technological advances, educators continue to find ways to reinvent the wheel.
But not today.
Today, I just want to remember the students.
And thank them for the memories.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is retired Eminent Scholar in History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist and editorial writer for The Star. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.