By Joe Rector

I looked at the clock and turned off the alarm before it rang at 6:15 a.m. My eyes saw every hour as it ticked through the night. After dragging myself from the bed, dressing, and grabbing some on-the-run breakfast, I left home for my first day at school. “What’s going on?” I thought. This must be some kind of nightmare from which I haven’t yet awakened.

The fact is that once again I am participating in the education of Knox County’s youth. More precisely, this is the beginning of the fourth year of subbing. Hardin Valley Academy, Byington-Solway, and Karns High have been the places where I’ve spent most of my time. In fact, they feel like home and house some friends that work hard and occasionally supply me with work days.

This is my 61st year of being in school in some capacity. If kindergarten had been for children other than rich kids, one more year could be added. From 1958, I’ve spent most of each year in a classroom, either as a student, teacher, or now, substitute. Few people stay associated with their chosen professions this long, and I understand why. At some point, energy levels tank, and “I don’t care” attitudes soar.

The most vivid memory from that very first day of school was a dark one. Children were escorted from our classroom to the stage in the gym. There they received vaccinations. I had no idea if my records were in order and fretted most of the day that someone would come to take me away and stab me with a needle. To this day, nothing strikes fear into the hearts of youngsters like the threats of shots.

Each new year of school brought anticipation for something new and concern for what was expected. Ball Camp Elementary housed students 1st-8th grades back then. So, new school fears didn’t hit until we became freshmen. My grandson Madden entered middle school this year, and he had the same jitters that most every young’un has. I advised him to keep his head down, keep quiet, and maintain a low profile the first term. Then he would know the ropes well enough to venture out. That’s the warning we got upon entering Karns High School. The threat of having to push a penny down the hall with our noses, being beaten up by an upperclassman, or being thrown into Beaver Creek kept us living in terror for at least a few weeks.

Even teaching came with some discomfort. Herding several classes was demanding, especially if they were sprinkled with teens who wished to be anywhere else. That added stress to making sure the material was covered and students were prepared for the following year. The routine wore on me; never being allowed to leave the campus was inconvenient, and knowing exactly what was to come each day made life somewhat boring at times. Still, I am glad that I chose a teaching career and wouldn’t change if I could replay my life.

These days, I sit in classes and make sure students don’t kill each other. They won’t work if they don’t want to, and I have no power to make them. My instructions are always to do the work or find something to keep from disturbing those who want to complete assignments. I further add that if they don’t want to work, there’s no need to worry; plenty always look for adult workers with no high school diploma who want careers in fast food.

I’m tired, plain and simple. With any luck, this will be my final year of working. Then, I’ll rise when I wish, work if I want to, and go when and where I choose. I figure 60+ years of doing anything is long enough. I’m ready for some new challenges and adventures.