By Joe Rector

Like Gene Autry used to sing, “I’m Back in the Saddle Again.” The school year has begun, and I have more students than last year. The feeling of being overwhelmed hit when the rolls indicated that both classes had multiple students. Before long, however, a sense of comfort came. Being back into a routine has its benefits.

Amy and I are just a bit helter-skelter during the summer. Most of our free time is spent sitting by the pool. We grudgingly go inside when supper has to be prepared. With the return of the school year, a familiar and easy pace returns. Both of us get up in the morning, get ready for work, and then leave for the day. My work day ends at 11 a.m. (Don’t make fun of me for that. I put in 30 years doing this job, so I’m ready shorter hours.) Then I make my way to the YMCA for a workout three days a week. Upon my arrival home each day, Sadie is looking up at me with those brown eyes that seem to beg for a walk. Afterwards, the rest of the day is spent mowing the yard, cleaning house, or running errands. Evenings are spent sharing our days around the pool or in the den. Early bedtimes arrive to signal the days’ ends.

I must admit that being around high school aged folks still is fun. The world is different from the one I experienced during my teaching years. However, for the most part, kids are still the same. They have the cock-eyed notion that they’re ready to take on the world. Most of them have no intention of lugging a ten-pound literature book home every night. The majority have no idea what the day’s top news stories are, nor do they care one iota.

I’m not so sure I have much to teach them nor can I offer them much that they will keep for years to come. Each of these young’uns will learn to write an essay the correct way, even if it kills me teaching them. More important, though, is communicating with them. Folks, we have a generation that can’t look up. Their necks are permanently bowed as they look down at cell phones. Kids peck away on screens to send messages to friends and family. The information is filled with “phone speak” and emojis. The sad part is that they bring the same language to essays that they turn in. It is my job to break them of that bad habit.

Nothing is more fun than “messing” with teenagers. They are so easy to fool. An authoritative voice is all it takes to convince them that almost anything is true. On a regular basis, I tell my students things that are ridiculous or simply untrue. Then, I wait for the lights to go on, the grins to cross their faces, and the looks that ask “Are you crazy” to appear.

My goal is to help them learn to think. I want them to weigh the evidence before making decisions. I stress to them the importance of education after high school. No, not all of them must go to college. However, I preach to them that they simply have to learn a trade or a skill that will help in the search for jobs that pay more than minimum wage.

I don’t know how much longer I’ll do this. When Amy can retire, we are out of here. Trips to see our children and to visit those places we’ve dreamed of will fill our time. Just knocking around home and Knoxville together will be fun. I can’t wait, but for the time being, I’ll enjoy teaching kids. It’s a good way to spend time.