Saturday, November 12, 2016

Back to My Roots: Ruffin High School

As I progress through my last, and 29th year of teaching, I find myself daily thinking about my roots--taking a trip down memory lane to Ruffin High School, where it all began in August, 1988.  Ruffin High was built in the mid-1950s and sat in rural Colleton County, between Walterboro and Smoaks.  It was the school for the rural students, while Walterboro High was for the town students. There was nothing there but a post office and houses.  It was definitely "the sticks." I remember it was not air-conditioned when I began, and my dad and I brought in fans for my room.  There was also a summer when he painted a wall of my room mauve, to have a "calming" effect.  In those days, we could pretty much do what we wanted to our rooms. 

Those were the days prior to technology.  We teachers had to use old-fashioned hard copy grade books and calculators to arrive at grades.  Then, at the end of the grading period we passed the report cards around to add our grade.  I remember getting frustrated waiting for teachers who were not silver like me.

Those were the days prior to No Child Left Behind Leaving many children behind due to unreal expectations on the backs of teachers and students.  Teachers were trusted to teach what they thought the students should know.

I don't remember many specifics from those days, but I remember bits and pieces.  I know that if I called a parent or grandparent, the majority of the time they jerked a chain in their children.  What a different world it was.  I simply expected my students to do well and treat each other with respect.  I piled on the vocabulary and the research papers, at least I remember giving the seniors a research paper one year.  There were those who tried to dissuade me because they said the students wouldn't do it, but I would not be deterred.  If I taught them how, they would do it.  This was where I laid the foundation for high expectations.  Perhaps it was a good thing that going into this school, I had no preconceived ideas about poor African-American students.  I simply saw them as my students.

I recall the year I taught AP English.  I had three students:  David Daniels, Wanda Boatwright, and Hope Williams.  One weekend we piled into my Nissan Sentra in Walterboro and headed to Charleston to see the movie Hamlet.  We read Shakespeare, Dickinson, Whitman, Ibsen, Antigone, and The Odyssey, among others.  Oh, how I loved that time.

A couple of years ago I was chatting on Facebook with one of my RHS students, and he reminded me he had graduated on time because I sent his parents a certified letter for a conference.  Of course, I did not remember that until he brought it up.  I did not play, even then.

Those were the days when we teachers had some power.  I shake my head now, but one of my big rules was that if they said "Shut up" to another student in my room, they went to ISS.

I'm sure this is the first of many ramblings as I recall my roots at Ruffin High.  My students defied the odds of "poor children" and have succeeded at the military, teachers, teachers of the year in Atlanta, engineers, photographers, artists, nurses, medics, truck drivers, etc... As I type this, the tears are streaming, and I don't know why.  Here are some pics of the faces I taught from 1988-1996: