Ron Turbyfill on The Pay Off: Reflections on American Education Week
Editor’s note: As Teacher Appreciation Week, May 6-10, was coming to a close, a longtime educator shares his thoughts.
By Ron Turbyfill
Special to the Salisbury Post
Thirty-four years have come and gone since my first “Teacher Appreciation Week” in 1979. Right out of college, I felt like I could surely take on the world. I had become what I’d dreamed of being; a small town high school music teacher.
While East Carolina University had done its best to prepare me for a career, I didn’t know much about the small town part Mind you, I had spent 10 weeks student teaching in Clinton. But I was raised in Charlotte. Can you take the city out of the boy?
Clinton was small, but huge in comparison to Mount Ulla. My first teaching job was in Mount Ulla. Well, sort of. West Rowan High School is actually much closer to the Barber Junction U.S. Post Office. That is, it was closer until they closed the busy Barber Junction office and moved the building to the NC Transportation Museum in Spencer.
My new wife, raised in Landis helped a great deal. Everyone around here calls their parents’ friends by the title of “uncle,” and “aunt.” Sometimes they are and sometimes they aren’t. That doesn’t really matter much. This information is particularly helpful to an alien from Planet Mecklenburg. Be sure you speak kindly of everyone in Rowan. You’re probably talking about their cousin. Or aunt. Or uncle.
In 15 years at West Rowan, hundreds of young people came in my room to take cand or chorus class. Many wanted to learn music. But I learned that band and chorus serve many purposes for young people, and music is just one of those. Among my West students, I had all types of students. Collegebound kids, kids seeking vocations and trades, athletes, cheerleaders, student counsel kids, singers, dancers and performers of every kind. Some wanted to sing or play solos and others were content to sit in the last seat of the last row.
I was particularly fortunate to teach many of these kids for four years. Unlike today’s “block schedule,” teachers used to keep their classes all year long. One-hundred-eighty days multiplied by four years is a lot of time together. Add to that, trips to Disney World, Washington, Atlanta, Norfolk and New Orleans, always accompanied by a faithful corps of parents Indispensable and invaluable parents. The kind of moms that always carry safety pins, bobby pins, tape and Band-aids . The kinds of dads who can figure out how to start an aging activity bus when you’re two hours from school. The kind of parents that keep the Band Parents organization running by selling “delicious band fruit.” The kind of parents that will spend not hours but days helping to pick up trash on a Charlotte Motor Speedway that is measured not in acres, but square miles.
So what’s the pay-off for this teacher? The same as it is for my friends who taught math, English, Spanish, biology or gym. Or coached the football, basketball or baseball teams or cheerleaders. Or sponsored the Yearbook, Student Counsel or FFA. They had “their kids,” too.
Despite some only being four years younger than myself, I still see “my kids.” They have their own families now. Some have a houseful of children. Others have grandchildren. I love seeing “my kids.” They have careers as varied as their interests when they were students at West. My kids are veterinarians, doctors, car salesmen, teachers, professors, nurses, accountants, musicians, engineers and business owners. Good people. Really good people.
To be able to participate in the community experience of helping to raise and educate the children of Rowan County is the payoff. It looks like a long and sometimes discouraging road for a young teacher to walk. At the risk of sounding like more of an old man than I am, I’ll share a secret. Thirty-four years is but a moment.
Happy Teacher’s Appreciation Week!
Ron Turbyfill, teaches special education at a high school in Cabarrus County.