Part Two —-The Early Years of Teaching

Yesterday I talked about the people and activities that got me involved with special education. Today I’m going to tell you about my early years in teaching.
I graduated from Carson-Newman College in Tennessee a week before my 22nd birthday. Four years of hard work had come to an end. Now, I just needed a job:) I packed up my dorm room and moved back to my home state of Maryland. I had every intention of going back there to live. I was filling out applications, going on interviews with school systems, while also working full time at the group homes that I mentioned in my last post. One afternoon I received a call from a former professor. He told me about a job opening in a small town in the mountains of east Tennessee. I flew back down to interview with this school system and was given the job on the spot. The special ed. supervisor gave me a quick tour of the town and took me to the only apartment complex in the area. This was to be my new home. Within two weeks I had gone back up to Maryland, retrieved all my earthly possessions and moved into my new apartment in Oneida, Tennessee.
Now, Oneida in the early 90’s was a small town set back in the mountains. I sort of felt like the main character in the story of Christy as I began my new teaching adventure. I was barely 22 years old, and green as they come. I WAS the special education teacher for grades K-6. I had many teaching assistants to help me with all the kids for which I was so grateful. Looking back, I have to say I couldn’t have picked a better school to get started in. The people I worked with were some of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet. Some of the 6th grade students I had that first year are now 30 years old! Okay….now I officially feel old.
The kids of Oneida Elementary taught me more in the two years that I was there then I ever taught them. One sweet boy comes to mind. He was in 6th grade at the time. His family was very poor, and I believe day to day living was a struggle for them…but this child was always friendly, respectful and a hard worker. One day he was late to school and we had things to do so I was irritated when he finally showed up an hour late. I sternly told him that he needed to be at school on time, self righteously believing I was teaching him the importance of punctuality. I’ll never forget this young man looking almost eye level to me as he said, “Miss Webb, I’m really sorry for being late. The wall of our house fell in last night and I had to help my Daddy wrap plastic around so the weather would stay out. I didn’t sleep much.” I wished I could have taken my stupid words back…instead I hugged Daniel and I apologized for not understanding. Having grown up with everything I needed I was absolutely naive to how some people lived. I learned a valuable lesson that day.
Another day I had to have some paperwork signed and couldn’t get the parents to come to the school to sign. My special ed. supervisor and I went to the home of this particular student and knocked at the door. The father opened the door and after hearing what we needed, invited us in. Animals were in the house….and I don’t mean just cats and dogs. I mean various small farm animals. I was taking this all in as I gingerly sat down on the couch (making sure to glance down before taking a seat). The father proceeded to tell us about his prize fighters. I wasn’t really following along, until he mentioned his fighting roosters….and then I got it. Cock fighting. (Which by the way is illegal in Tennessee!) He told us not to worry about that, he crossed the state line into Kentucky on Saturday nights for the fights. My, oh my, was I learning life lessons about people.
Oneida was a small town. REALLY small. When I first moved there I was seen as an “outsider”. People were not unkind, but I knew they were watching me—after all they considered me “a yank”. I never realized how small the town was until one day I was getting a prescription at the pharmacy when one of my students literally popped up from behind the counter and scared me half to death! He was hanging out with his aunt (the pharmacist) until his mom got off work. (the sisters were identical twins which threw me for a loop for a moment)
Another time I was at dinner with a male friend. There was only one sit down country restaurant in town and it was connected to the local motel. (same owners) The next day at school one of my female 5th grade students demanded to know what I was doing at the motel last night?! Good grief. I explained I was JUST at DINNER and then went home, and why am I explaining myself to a ten year old????
Then there was the time one of my 5th grade students showed up at my apartment doorstep. It was 8:30 in the evening, getting dark outside when I heard my doorbell ring. It was Jason. Our conversation went something like this. “Hey, Miss Webb.” “Hey, Jason. What are you doing here?” ” Well, I was looking for your place.” “Why?” ” I dunno” “Hmm….well you found me.” “You ready for bed?” “Yes. (as I stood there in my pink pajama set and slippers) Um….how did you find my apartment?” “Cause, I’m smart that’s how. I figured you lived at the apartments. I looked for your car and found it parked in the parking lot. It was on this side of the apartment building so I started knocking on doors and ringing doorbells. I figured you’d answer eventually.” “Interesting. Good deduction. Now it’s getting dark and we have school tomorrow. Do your parents know you are out?” “Uh….I dunno.” “I want you to ride your bike home. NOW. Promise?” ” Okay. See ya tomorrow.” ” Bye, Jason.”
My life in small town U.S.A consisted of joining a bowling league for entertainment, having an act in the school’s local talent show, attending the high school basketball games, and going to the local Walmart. Everyone went to Walmart for entertainment….after all that’s where one met up with everyone to chat. One day when I was there on my regular shopping trip, minding my own business, I was sidelined by one of my students. I hit the floor like a sack of wet concrete. I felt arms around my neck and realized it was Luke. He had escaped his parents grip, saw his teacher down the aisle and galloped at me like he was going for the win at the Kentucky Derby. Hey, if I had seen him coming I would have steadied myself for the assault…but alas, I was caught off guard and was not very graceful as I hit the floor. Luke’s parents were very apologetic as they helped me up. Luke on the other hand didn’t seem to mind that he nearly gave his teacher a concussion. Next time, I decided I might just wear a helmet when doing my shopping.
My first two years of teaching were fun. I remember lots of smiling faces, lessons, paper and glue, arts and crafts, the Halloween costume parade, sharing the gym and cafeteria with the middle and high school, talent shows, and friendships. Like I said earlier I couldn’t have picked a better place to live and work as a new teacher.