Larry Efird: Goats and teachers
A few months ago, I found myself sitting at the same table with three new teachers during a staff meeting. I suddenly realized that not only was I almost old enough to be their grandfather, but if I multiplied their ages by the number 3, the product would be close to my current age.
Rather than focus on the ticking clock of my teaching career and the realization that it has to wind down some day, I found myself encouraged by the camaraderie of those young, energetic souls who are just beginning their own careers. I like their optimism, their creativity, and their courage. I also like their sense of humor. Jokingly, one of them told me later I was a “GOAT.” Not knowing if that was a compliment or not, he explained that it was an acronym meaning “Greatest of All Time.” That’s just one more reason I like being around young teachers: I can always learn new things from them.
For the past 10 years, I have been privileged to teach at my high school alma mater. It was never one of my life goals or plans; it just made sense to finally come home. The funny thing was that the building still smelled the same, but I still couldn’t identify the mysterious aroma after 35 years of being away. One thing that was different, however, was the faces I saw. Only one teacher remained on the faculty from the time I had been a student, and there were four of us who had graduated together then working on the staff. Other than that, almost 1,400 people were walking around campus that were new to me.
Hanging on the wall of our teacher’s lounge are several oil portraits of venerable folks from the past who symbolize perhaps a golden era in our city’s school system. I knew most of them personally. One was my high school principal — Byron King — and one was my student council advisor — Frances Bounds. Both of them embodied unlimited commitment and pride in their community and school. They were dedicated to the teaching profession and spent most of their adult lives helping students in the same building I now work in each day. (I’ve been known to talk to their pictures before as if they could give me some much-needed advice, but I have to settle for just seeing their reassuring smiles.)
They had their own issues in the 1960s-1980s. I suppose each generation has its own particular battles and challenges to face. When we’re young, we don’t know what those battles are going to be. When we’re nearing the end of our teaching days, we can reflect on all the lessons we’ve learned from our past struggles and successes. And hopefully, we’ve gained some wisdom along the way because you can’t buy that on eBay, and you can’t even get it in college.
In the past nine years, I’ve been in the same classroom, but my “next door neighbors” have changed. All of them have influenced me in one way or another. Some have only moved down the hall, while others have moved on to other schools. Four of those teachers have been first-year teachers. I have often been amazed at the wisdom coming out of that room and the passion for learning that was evident. It actually made me think on several occasions that I needed to “up my game.”
Rather than feel threatened by all the new blood, I’ve been encouraged to keep teaching hard and to keep fighting the good fight. I’m honored that these “kids” would consider me to be their peer, even though I didn’t grow up playing video games or talking on a cell phone. They treat me with respect and don’t even make fun of me because I still write grades down in a gradebook, as well as post them to a website.
And though I’m flattered that one or two of them would refer to me as the “G.O.A.T.”, I realize that the real GOATS are those whose pictures are hanging on the walls in the Teachers’ Lounge.
Larry Efird teaches at A.L. Brown HIgh School in Kannapolis.