by Carolyn Trower

As many of you know I spent the last school year in the classroom, filing a vacancy for high school English at Mark Twain High School. It is not unusual for a retired teacher to teach for a year or two right after retirement to fill in a “critical shortage.” It is unusual to be called back after 14 years of retirement.

There were several critical shortage areas in math, science, and English in the area at the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year. I don’t know how the neighboring schools filled their shortages, but I was asked by MTHS if I could teach English until they could find a suitable applicant.

That says something about the state of education in rural areas. Why are there shortages? It wasn’t that long ago that teachers sometimes had a hard time finding a position and often that position was hours away from home. Rural areas are hard hit because they can’t match the pay urban school districts offer. If an applicant comes from St. Louis or another large urban area, Hannibal and Quincy don’t provide the same social life and entertainment opportunities.

Another factor may be that young people don’t want to carry a $80,000-100,000 student loan into a job that starts under $35,000 a year. I’ve always said that teaching, like preaching, is a calling. You teach because you can’t imagine doing anything else, no matter the salary. Today’s living standards are higher than they were in the 70’s when I started teaching for $8,500 a year. And it seems that now, practicality overcomes the calling.

Most people’s first response to hearing that I would be returning to the classroom was a variation of, “Are you out of your mind?” There were days when I doubted my decision. I had forgotten just how physically demanding the job can be. Standing on my feet for most class periods and staying up late at night grading papers or working on lesson plans messed with my sleep. Not only did I need my 8 hours a night I missed my afternoon naps. I persevered and powered on, and I’d like to think I reclaimed some of the stamina I had when I was a much younger teacher.

The academics were easy, and I quickly fell into the read, write, discuss mode enjoying the stories and novels, the creative writing, and teaching Shakespeare again. What threw me off was the increased use of computers for attendance and emails that covered everything from the daily announcements to release times for game days. All communication came through emails. I regularly missed important “to do” messages because after first bell I didn’t sit down to check my email until my planning period after lunch. Oops. My mind just couldn’t wrap around the need to tether myself to the electronic umbilical cord.

At times I ran into an electronic snag when using the computer in a lesson. After I snarled a few choice words at the beast, I just turned around and said, “Someone come fix this thing.” And someone always did. Students were most tolerant of my electronic snafus and “old ways” and that is one thing that endeared them to me.

Were students different than they were when I taught before? Oh, my yes. I’m sure I wasn’t what they expected either. We clashed on occasion, especially over the definition of “rude.” Expectations were often mismatched, but compromise was always an option. There were days when I felt I hadn’t taught them a single thing and others when I was excited to see how much they had learned.

No two days were ever the same. There was exhilaration and heartache; elation and frustration. There were days when I cried and other days when I laughed myself into tears.

It was an experience I never thought to have again, and one that I will cherish forever.