Phil Kirk: Teaching will always be a challenge

  • Posted: Sunday, August 17, 2014 12:11 a.m.

From a talk the writer gave at a Knox Middle School retreat recently:

First, I am so happy to have the opportunity to return to where I began my teaching career. Forty-seven short years ago at age 22 and after graduating from East Rowan High, Catawba College and doing my student teaching at Salisbury High, I reported to Knox Junior High and learned that I would have five preparations each day — seventh grade language arts, seventh and ninth grade journalism, reading and school newspaper. I would also be responsible for the school yearbook.


After two years here, I was “demoted” to Salisbury High to teach English, journalism and school newspaper. I have been in Raleigh and Washington most of the past 40 years but have kept up with the schools through the Salisbury Post, annual visits to present a scholarship in my name to attend North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching (NCCAT) to the Rowan-Salisbury Teacher of the Year, as well as visits to at least half the schools when I chaired the State Board of Education.

Teaching has and will always be a challenge, but an exciting one — that is why you are in teaching. Yes, teaching today is different than it was 47 years ago when I was in the classroom. Our student body is more diverse; our societal challenges are certainly more complex. Certainly technology is a big driver in the changes, and I commend Rowan-Salisbury Schools for being a national leader in technology.

So much of what we do today is influenced by leadership, and I like what I read and hear about your co-principals. In the past several months, I have enjoyed learning to know Superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody. She has a tremendous vision, boundless energy and a great work ethic.

Why am I here today? Simply to say “thank you” for being a teacher and thank you for being at Knox Middle School.

I am also here because I am passionate about public education. Not sure where this quote came from — possibly from the Statue of Liberty — but it sums up what public education is all about.

“You take them all: The rich, the poor; the nurtured, the neglected; the gifted, the challenged; the fluent speaker of English and the English language learner.”

You get your students for a fraction of their lives, but you bless them every day.

As we begin a new year, we do so with optimism, with enthusiasm and with high energy levels. I agree with Cassie Thompson (current Rowan-Salisbury Teacher of the Year) when she told new teachers last week that it is easy to start the year with a positive attitude but it is easy to let the negativity creep in, especially when you are tired, as you no doubt will be by the end of every day.

I would encourage you to forget the past at Knox except to learn from it. Keep the focus on the students. Remember, every child can learn, but all children are different and require different teaching techniques.

Watch what you say and where you say it. You are Knox Middle School and an innocent comment at the grocery store, church or synagogue, barber shop or hair stylist or bridge table will be taken as the gospel truth, especially if it is slightly negative.

I want to close with a note I received from a former student of mine at Salisbury High, Jylla Moore, noted author and speaker. She sent me a book she had written with this autograph:

Mr. Kirk:

Understand that when I reflect on my journey in life, you turned the traffic light to green, and I’ve been going forward since that moment in time. Thank you for believing in me and for encouraging me every footprint along the way. You were a significant difference maker in my life and I’ll be forever grateful! Thanks.

— Jylla (Moore).

May you receive many such notes.

Phil Kirk, a native of Rowan County, has had a long career in education and politics. He is now a director of Brady Energy Services and lives in Raleigh.

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