A whimsical look at life growing up in the small town of Waldron, Arkansas in the 1960s and 1970s, plus occasional observations from the present. Want to start at the very beginning? Click HERE.

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Momentous Decision

I just couldn't decide.  I went back and forth, considering all the options, but never settling on anything.  My job.  My career.  My Future!  Oh, how I envied those teenagers growing up in the U.S.S.R. where, I assumed, the Party simply told you what you would become, and no decision on your part was necessary.  But here, in The Land Of The Free and The Home Of The Brave, this decision was driving me crazy. 

I did, at least, have a small portion of a plan.  My brother Gary and his wife had agreed to allow my twin sister Janet and I to live with them in Fort Smith while we went to Westark Community College.  This incredibly generous gesture meant that the two of us, poorest of the poor, could manage to get an Associates Degree.  Without the means to go beyond the two years, I figured that would be it.  So, I began to consider what career options I could avail myself of with my two-year degree. 

Since junior high, I had loved to read the newspaper.  Even in hard times, we managed to maintain our daily subscription to Fort Smith's Southwest Times Record.  I was also a fan of the nightly news, when, after relating the day's tales of devastation and turmoil, David Brinkly would solemnly intone, "Goodnight Chet."  Chet Huntley would respond with an equally succinct, "Goodnight David."  Then, looking directly into the camera, he would bid us all, "And Goodnight from NBC news."

So, somewhere along the beginning of my junior year of high school, I decided that I wanted to become a journalist.  I began to look over the schedule of classes that my sister-in-law had gotten for me, just to see what kind of exciting things I would be taking at Westark. 

And so it happened that one day, in Betty Rice's English class during my junior year, we had a guest speaker.  It was Mr. Dennis Cash, who was the Registrar for Westark Community College.  He was making a presentation to all of Waldron's juniors, telling them about Westark and what to expect when they went to college.  I listened intently, eager to gain the valuable information he was providing.  At the end of his presentation, he asked for questions.  My hand was the first to shoot up.

"Mr. Cash,do you think that a person with a two-year degree could get a job as a journalist?" 

Mr. Cash thoughtfully considered my question, and then responded with great candor.  "Most newspapers," he said, "would want to hire someone with a four-year degree.  I'm not saying that you couldn't get a job with an Associates Degree, but you would have a much better chance with a four-year degree."

My heart sank.  I had no contingency plan for continuing my education beyond my two years at Westark.  Four years!  If I have to go to college for four years, I might as well be a teacher!

It was like a light switch was turned on.  A teacher!  That was what I really wanted all along, but I didn't allow myself to consider it because I didn't see how I could possibly pay for four years of college.  But now, that reason was no longer in play.  I would be going to college for four years.  All I had to do was figure out how to pay for it.

And I did.  I worked my first two years as a student worker; worked during the summers, saved as much as I could and got a student loan at the Bank of Waldron that I didn't have to start paying back until after I graduated.  From the moment I started my classes at Westark, I knew I had made the right decision.  After Westark, I transferred to Arkansas Tech in Russellville, where I graduated in 1978, and received my Master's in 1984.

Beginning in 1978, I would spend the next 29 years doing a job I loved.  For the first 8 years I taught fifth grade science, where we made electrical circuits and shot off rockets and started every year by talking about the less-than-exciting concept of continental drift.  The next 14 years were spent teaching sixth grade math, handing out tons of Jolly Ranchers and developing the brilliant Yates System For Putting Fractions In Lowest Terms.  Then seven years as principal of Waldron Elementary School, where the kindergarten kids had a sneaking suspicion that I was a giant. 

And now I'm back at Westark, although it isn't called Westark anymore.  Now it's the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, a four-year university on par with any other college in the state.  Although I now supervise the tutoring and testing center, I also get the opportunity to teach a ten-week class each semester dealing with college success. 

A teacher.  I could be a teacher.  And with help from a few good people, I was.