Dr. Reid didn’t think about becoming a teacher or at least a long-term teacher when he got a part-time job teaching history at Athens Academy. It’s easy to understand why a person like Dr. Reid, who is interested in research and has a Ph.D., didn’t consider being a high school teacher as the first career choice.
Being a high school teacher means 9 hours of work in school each day, plus many essays, homework assignments, or tests to grade every day. Especially if you take into account the income for a normal high school teacher, this job is not the ideal career for most people.
But after one year of being an upper school teacher, Dr. Reid realized that the life of being a high school teacher is actually not that bad. He said: “I just like high school students, I don’t know why.” Mr. Chambers hired Dr. Reid after his first year of teaching in Athens Academy. Dr. Reid decided to stay in Athens Academy, even after he finished his Ph.D. from Louisiana State University, because he had discovered that teaching high school students was his ideal job.
Although high school students are sometimes annoying, Dr. Reid is still glad to use his knowledge and wisdom to help every student become a better person.
When I walked into Dr. Reid’s office, he was carefully reading the text on a blue piece of paper. There was still a deck of blue paper stacked to his right waiting for him to go through. Thirty-one years ago, Dr. Reid was sitting at his desk, grading an essay, just like he does today; except now, his beard has turned grey and white. Dr. Reid has gone through a lot of changes in 31 years of teaching, both personal and professional. The thing that hasn’t changed and will not change is his positive attitude for his job.
His teaching experience isn’t limited to 7 years AP European History and 26 years AP US History. Dr. Reid’s passion for research was still alive; in 2016, he brought a project called “Learning About Home” into his history classes. This project helps students learn more about how to research, which brings them big benefits when they get into college.
When I asked him the reason why he decided to start this project, he leaned forward with a smile, and said: “People need to participate in their history.” He was referring to their own local history; we need to know, study, and research what has happened in Athens, a small town in Northeast Georgia.
Learning history isn’t only remembering what has happened before, but also using the knowledge to participate in and write down the history. The success and uniqueness of this project has been noticed: in 2016, Dr. Reid’s project “Learning About Home” was recognized by the National Humanities Alliance.
During Dr. Reid’s 31 years’ teaching career, he contributed a lot to the school and really enjoyed his job, but he also has experienced a lot of partings.
Dr. Reid can understand and respect people who left Athens Academy or the teaching profession because he believes those people must have found a better place, that they would enjoy more. “The worst thing is if people stick around in the teaching profession and saying they’re unhappy.” Dr. Reid concluded.
Another kind of parting Dr. Reid has experienced is the retirement of his coworkers. One of them was my 8th-grade math teacher Mrs. Green, who taught middle school math in Athens Academy from 1987 to 2017.
I clearly remember one day when, after school had been over for awhile, I went back to 8th-grade building to get my book. Mrs. Green was the only teacher who was still in the building. I asked her why she stays.
She kept grading the homework as she answered me. She already knew the answer well enough to recite it. She said: “That’s what teachers do.”
Mrs. Green didn’t know what to major in when she entered the University of Georgia, but she knew she always enjoyed working with kids.
Because Mrs. Green enjoyed babysitting when she was growing up, she attended a middle school degree program. Her first job was at the pilot program middle school for the state, in Smyrna, Georgia. She soon figured out that she enjoyed teaching middle schoolers.
When I asked her why she enjoyed teaching middle schoolers most, she answered: “An aspect I loved about middle schoolers is that they arrive as children but mature quickly into delightful young adults. I love to watch this age learn to reason and learn to think for themselves. Their sense of humor is always entertaining and the relationships built at this age are deep and rewarding. Perhaps I have always loved this age because I am basically still a middle schooler at heart.”
Mrs. Green moved back to Athens one year later and was hired by Athens Academy to teach 6th and 7th grade. For her, Math was a challenge, but also a lesson.
Each student understood numbers differently, differences between students’ understandings in the threads of mathematics always made Mrs. Green excited. “Teaching math is very intriguing and I loved the challenges of learning how students think analytically.”
She saw students were more excited about Science than Math when she was teaching in Smyrna because science is all around us and explains the world we live in. Compared to Science, Math was less fun for students, because they didn’t know why they needed to learn it. “Math is such an important part of each day for all of us and I wanted so much for students to enjoy numbers as I did.” Mrs. Green believed that Math has always been essential and to our daily life; it the skill that all people should have.
To help students learn while having fun, Mrs. Green would always bring them surprises: she brought candy for students when holidays came; she created many fairies and fairy tales. She gave the strategies to solve the algebra problems names, which helped students remember them; she gave the numbers, which we use everyday, vivid lives.
After 20 years of teaching 6th and 7th grade, she became the 8th-grade math teacher. 8th grade is the last year of middle school in Athens Academy. Students enter a totally new and different world after 8th grade: high school. Which means this is also one of the last journeys to finish the trip. Mrs. Green not only sent students to high school and bade farewell to middle school, she has also experienced many teachers leaving.
Similar to Dr. Reid’s answer, when I asked Mrs. Green for her opinions of people who have given up teaching, she believed that most of them left because they lacked enthusiasm for their jobs, and, she said, “Students know when their teachers are not excited about their job.” She believes teachers have to love their job because their attitude directly affects their students. Only when teachers love the subject first can students can feel the true value of the knowledge.
Teachers also leave the profession for personal reasons. Even though Mrs. Green had grandchildren who lived with her, she still didn’t give up her job to spend all her time with them. When some of her friends were already retired, she still worked nine hours a day. Her devotion to her job needs a stronger word than even love. She understood it as a responsibility to spread knowledge.
People might leave the profession for a degree or a higher paying job, but they’ve learned a lot about themselves as they taught and they bring this to other careers. Mrs. Green believes that “their experience in teaching helps them to become better team players and problem solvers and helps them learn to communicate with many types of people.”
Forty and half years’ teaching experience has become the major part of Mrs. Green’s life. She became a teacher before she married Mr. Green. When she retired, she already had seven grandchildren.
Both teachers, Dr. Reid and Mrs. Green have guided hundreds of students. They have performed the meaning of the word “teacher.” From last year’s data, they were two out of four teachers who had taught in Athens Academy more than thirty years.
They have never regretted becoming a teacher in Athens Academy, because they found teaching to students in Athens Academy to be their purpose.