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Principal will always be teaching

When I was a student at North Rowan High School, I remember riding the bus to what was then North Rowan Junior High in East Spencer to pick up students in the afternoons. In those days, all ages and grades rode the bus together. While waiting for students to load, I’d see a tall skinny man dressed in a coat and tie watching. I knew the man was the principal, but didn’t know his name. It wasn’t until years later, as a teacher, I learned his name was Mr. Ray Shytle.
Mr. Shytle became principal at Woodleaf Elementary School the same year I began teaching kindergarten there, 1978. Since it was his first year as an elementary school principal, I had to be the one to teach him about kindergarten children. I think kindergarten eventually became one of his favorite grades because he liked to spend time reading stories to them on Fridays. The children showed their appreciation by giving him hugs.
I visited recently with Mr. Shytle at his home on U.S. 801 in western Rowan County, where we talked about the “good old days.” He’s a music lover and at one time a performer, so I wasn’t surprised a piano and an organ sat side-by-side in his living room. In his younger days, he played the piano for a gospel group that sang on radio station WBBO in Rutherford County. Later, moving to Rowan, he played the organ at Unity Presbyterian Church, giving it up last year after 40 years of faithfulness because of health reasons. His music still sits on the church piano and organ.
Sitting in a rocking chair next to Mr. Shytle’s easy chair, I asked when was the first time he knew he wanted to teach. “That’s easy,” he said. “I knew when I was in first grade at Forest City Elementary School. The teacher couldn’t get around to listen to everyone read with 30-plus students in the class, so knowing I could read,she asked me to help. The seed for teaching was planted then and there.”
Graduating in 1947 from Cool Springs High, Mr. Shytle went on to Gardner-Webb Junior College in Boiling Springs to get an associate degree. Many of the teachers were in the armed forces at the time, so he was allowed to teach with just a two-year degree. He taught seventh grade in McDowell County in a small room with 40 students.
“Those sitting on the front row could touch the wall,” he said. “They were good kids and now one of them is a best friend.”
Having only a one-year contract, he went to work the next year in the mill, working there until 1959 when he went to what was then known as Appalachian State Teachers College in Boone. He graduated in 1961 and began his career at West Rowan High School teaching English.
It seems only fitting, since he began his career in the West Rowan area, that he would finish there, too. He sees the years as Woodleaf principal as some of his best because of supportive parents and, for the most part, well-behaved kids. In my opinion, he had great teachers, too.
Brandon Brothers, who has grown up living beside Mr. Shytle, now helps with his care.“ Even though he retired,” Brandon said, “he never stopped teaching or mentoring young people. I can testify to that because of all the things I’ve learned about life and setting goals from him.” Brandon also graduated from Appalachian and now facilitates and programs events at Genesis HealthCare.
“Brandon catches me when I fall,” Mr. Shytle said.
“And Mr. Shytle catches me when I fall,” Brandon said. In other words, they help each other, just in different ways.
Although Mr. Shytle uses a walker and doesn’t get out much, I see him as I first saw him while sitting on the bus at North Rowan Junior High. In my mind, he’s the tall man with a smile watching kids, directing them safely out of the parking lot towards home.
I asked what would be his advice for teachers today. He said, “That, too, is easy. Love the kids.”
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Dicy McCullough’s books are available at local bookstores, Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. Contact her at 704-278-4377.

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