Miss Julia counts her days

Published 7:14 pm Friday, May 7, 2010

When Ralph Jones got the big headline recently in this newspaper that he planned to retire from education, my dear spouse wanted to know why she couldn’t get a big headline too—“Julia Faye Smith retires after 34 years as a classroom teacher.”

With the courtesy this newspaper allows me to be the author of this weekly missive, it is with great pleasure and admiration for a job well done that I am proud to announce and publicize herewith the deserved retirement plans of one Julia Faye Smith.

I can do that.

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For us, it has been a grand trip—34 years of her grit, guidance and passion in the classroom, plus, for myself, allowed to follow along and “drive the bus.”

How many times people have asked me, “When is Faye going to retire?”

My answer has always been, “When she is ready. When she decides ‘it’ is time.”

“It” hasn’t been that the challenge has diminished, nor the passion waned, but the passing years take their pound of flesh. The body calls out and says, “Sorry, I can’t continue to sustain your pace.”

With the two of us, it all began in Titusville High School with a special student, Ernie. As a student in the high school in 1965, today, one would label Ernie as “developmentally handicapped.” Ernie was a teenager then, having perhaps the mental capacity of a preschooler. He was a big, warm and happy puppy, and loved the newly wedded Mrs. Smith.

We were reminiscing a few nights ago about the passing years, and one of us said, “I wonder what has ever become of Ernie. If he is alive today, he’s probably in a care facility. If his parents were still living, their ages would make it difficult for them to continue home caring for him.”

Then as a teacher you wonder about all those kids that you have passed through your classroom, and what has been their fate. Most will lead normal lives, some will achieve greatness, others will be in constant conflict with the law.

And so it must be.

Throughout the 34 years “driving the bus,” we have painted classroom walls, hung drapes in the windows, sanitized desktops, driven cheerleaders to football games, hauled boxes of books, furniture and supplies home at the end of the school year, then hauled them back again when school began in the fall, then annually repaired the classroom lectern for another year of lessons.

We have carried cold drinks and snacks for student outings and field trips, made countless dishes for countless faculty picnics and more for those teachers ailing at home, purchased school supplies with our own funds to have on hand for students who could not afford them, delivered kids home after returning from late-night field trips, donated books to kids in the hospital, taken a van full of students to the pre-Olympics in Atlanta, and on and on … my job to “drive the bus.”

Miss Julia is one of those rare persons who knew for as long ago as she could remember, that she wanted to be a classroom teacher. Nothing else could entice her away from her life’s purpose.

There are teachers like her everywhere, putting kids first, dedicating long hours to lessons, arriving early at school, completing administrative busywork so they can get on with their appointed tasks, almost every day coming home exhausted.

At our house, at the end of this month, morning coffee won’t have to be ready by 5:30, breakfast at 6:30, and her lunch made and packed and in her car by 7.

Recognizing too, all those teachers who have retired this year, their lives, passions and classroom work ethics, no doubt have been similar. And to all of these too, we wish their retirements to be restful, fruitful, challenging and most of all, healthful.

To all of those who complain that education today has failed our youth, that teachers don’t teach, and that kids don’t learn, let me tell you something big guy—I have been observing these people for 34 years. The best advice I can pass on to you nabobs of naysayers, the best thing you can do for education is to just shut up.

Yes, Miss Julia is counting her days, about 14 to go.

Then our lives will change. I don’t expect she will sit about too long doing nothing. It’s not her style. Whatever the next adventure will be, no doubt I’ll be “driving the bus.”