By Joe Rector
With much sadness, I’ve begun reading the obituaries of former students. The one that hit hard recently was for Toby Hyke. He was a student of mine and played on the football team of which I was an assistant coach. Toby had orange hair and a smile that brightened even the saddest folks’ lives. I didn’t see him again after graduation; the obituary indicated that he ran a successful business in south Knoxville and that all people loved him.
Since Toby’s passing, I’ve thought of those students who passed through the door of my classroom at Doyle High School. I began my teaching career there and loved most of the hours that I spent with students and the school. Other people made my staying on the job impossible. However, after a venture into the real world, I realized that the classroom was where I was destined to be. To my good fortune, a job became available, and I restarted my teaching career on November 5, 1985. At Karns High School I found more students who have made my life full and happy. I ended my stint as a teacher at the end of a school year when a student stood up in the middle of the classroom and announced that he’d “whip my a$$.” I left, not for fear but the chance that taking on a student would land me in jail or in a lawsuit.
If I could figure out how to accomplish it, I’d announce to those former students and players at Doyle High that on a certain date, I would be at some location. All would be invited to stop by for a while. Of course, all would need to wear a name tag with names and graduation years on them. We could sit and talk about old times, the good and bad ones. Some of the tales we’d share would be shaded by 50 years that have passed. I’d like to see what’s happened to those guys who sat at desks or lined up for football drills.
On another date, I’d do the same thing with the graduates from Karns High. More folks might be at this gathering since I spent over twenty years at Karns. I have seen some students who still live in the community, and I’ve even taught some of their children. The stories we would share might be of interest to their children and/or grandchildren.
Teachers seem to fade into the past. We share our knowledge of our subjects and sometimes offer up unsolicited advice. My wife says a gaggle of teachers is always louder and more argumentative than any other group. She swears that it’s because we are used to always being right. I used to argue with her but now understand. We had to be right in our classrooms. When the doors closed, we looked upon a world of our own. We made the rules and ultimately decided what subject material should be covered.
If such an event occurred, I would warn those who might attend that I might not remember them. One reason is my mind isn’t as sharp as it was when I was 22 years old. The other is that none of them will look the same as they did at 18. Of course, neither do I. Former students also should remember that they only have one face and person to remember; I have thousands.
Yep, I’d like to have such a get-together with both groups. This would not be a reunion; instead, we’d call it a time to remember. It would be much more fun to relive the past, or at least our versions of it. Most people do this kind of thing at the funeral home. If that’s my fate, so be it. Maybe I can hear the stories from former students from above or below. At any rate, I promise that I remember many of the good times and funny things that occurred. I’m thankful to have taken part in a part of your stories.