I suppose as one nears retirement from teaching, it's only natural that one's life flashes before one's eyes. By the time next year comes and I do retire, I estimate I will have taught roughly 2500 students spanning every grade from 3rd-12th. Last night in thinking about this time next summer, I had some flashbacks, but it didn't span my entire career; they zeroed in on my roots, back where it all began: Ruffin High School in nondescript Ruffin, South Carolina. That would prove to be my only high school teaching experience.
Back then in 1988 Ruffin had a post office and no stores. It is a small farming type community where my father was born in a house back in the woods in 1927. My family has roots up in that area as my parents were raised in Little Swamp Community, which is probably 15 minutes from Ruffin. I'll never forget that interview with Principal John Stephens. As I walked up to the rural school that summer day, I was dressed in a pink and white skirt set with white pumps; he greeted me in the office in blue work pants and a white t-shirt. The only thing I remember about that interview is this question he asked as he kind of giggled or laughed: "You don't have a boyfriend do you?" As I later came to understand, he had a teacher up and leave because of one of those. Of course, now it's illegal to ask that question, but I answered him.
I took that job and would spend 8 years driving the twenty minutes from home down Stokes Road to the rural Title One school. It was probably 95% African-American then. Students' families were close-knit and so was the staff. I remember many lunches spent with Home Economics teacher Beth Warren. I still have a Christmas kitty sweatshirt she appliqued for me; at least, I think that's what it is. Those were the best days of my teaching except for this past year.
A couple of years ago I was "talking" to a former student on Facebook Messenger when he reminded me I sent his parents a certified letter that he was failing Senior English and may not graduate; I had totally forgotten that "little thing," but he had not. He credited that with him graduating on time.
When I think of Ruffin High, I see a sea of faces: Chris and Nichole (who married and live near my parents and whom I reconnected with a year ago after all these years); Rick, the ever-smiling genius-now-turned-my-prayer-warrior; Stanley, who called me "Teach" through his gigantic smile; Gerald, who also had a gigantic smile (There was a lot of smiling in my classes); Wanda, my now Dr. Boatwright, who followed me into teaching; Hope and David, who rounded out my AP class with Wanda; Lesley, who seemed to be so intent in class; Oretha, the talker; KaKeshia, who looked so intent and scared at the same time but followed me into teaching and became a Teacher of the Year in Atlanta (as did Wanda); Scott, the only student all these years who had to stand by me and translate everything he wrote because of his handwriting; and so many, many more.
That was my first taste of poverty, though at the time I didn't really know it. I was raised a middle class kid. Now, I know God was preparing me for the path my life would take. I have worked in Title One schools my entire life except for one year in private school after my stint at one middle school became unbearable.
This post ended up being a rambling of sorts on this, the first day of summer vacation. I'm sure I will revisit Memory Lane on this little blog as memories invade my thoughts.