A fresh re­minder of why teach­ing is a noble pro­fes­sion

The Covington News - - OPINION - DICK YAR­BROUGH COLUM­NIST You can reach Dick Yar­brough at yarb2400@bell­south.net; at P.O. Box 725373, At­lanta, Ge­or­gia 31139; on­line at dick­yarbrough.com or on Face­book at www.face­book.com/dick­yarb

Dear Ge­or­gia Pub­lic School Teach­ers:

It is new school year but, alas, the same old im­ped­i­ments: An out-of-touch fed­eral bu­reau­cracy; ide­o­log­i­cal state leg­is­la­tors who choose not to send their kids to pub­lic schools but in­tend to tell you how and what to teach, and a so­ci­ety that val­ues re­al­ity tele­vi­sion more than qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion. Some­times I won­der how you man­age.

There was a reader awhile back who har­rumphed that I should let peo­ple know I have school teach­ers in my fam­ily be­fore launch­ing into one of my flame-throw­ing di­a­tribes about pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion. I as­sume he had been re­sid­ing on Mars. Yes, I have three of them. I am proud of them all be­cause, like you, they are mak­ing a dif­fer­ence in young lives.

That brings me to Bill Gatlin, or more prop­erly, Mr. Gatlin.

A cou­ple of Satur­days ago I was in­vited to Mr. Gatlin’s 90th birth­day party near At­lanta. Bill Gatlin was my high school jour­nal­ism ad­vi­sor at Rus­sell High School in East Point and a big in­flu­ence in my life. More than 70 of his for­mer stu­dents gath­ered to pay their re­spects. Sev­eral came from out-of-state. Ob­vi­ously, he in­flu­enced more lives than just mine.

Of­fi­cially, he taught En- glish Lit­er­a­ture and French at Rus­sell High, but what he taught me was a love of writ­ing that has never left me. My jour­nal­ism ca­reer was put on hold for four decades in the cor­po­rate world but man­ag­ing the rigid­ity of com­plex or­ga­ni­za­tions with their com­plex is­sues never dulled my pas­sion for the writ­ten word. Bill Gatlin en­grained that in me.

For the past 17 years, I have been for­tu­nate to write a news­pa­per col­umn that ap­pears across the state of Ge­or­gia. I have been told by those who keep up with such things that I reach over a mil­lion read­ers a week. I will take their word for it. I’ve never done a head count. All I know is that I have the same en­thu­si­asm for writ­ing to­day that I had when I was edi­tor of my high school pa­per. That is what in­spi­ra­tional teach­ing is all about. That is why many of us came from far­away places on a Satur­day af­ter­noon in July to be with this good man. We wanted him to know he had made a dif­fer­ence in our lives.

Mr. Gatlin did not have to put up with the dif­fi­cul­ties you face to­day in pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion. He was in the class­room be­fore dis­ci­pline went to the dogs and par­ents went miss­ing; be­fore drugs and en­ti­tle­ment and No Child Left Be­hind and Race to the Top and umpteen changes in cur­ricu­lums over which you have no con­trol, not to men­tion the lat­est teacher eval­u­a­tion fad likely to last about as long as a snow­ball in Sara­sota.

But even in those sim­pler times, Mr. Gatlin couldn’t make us learn any­thing. What he did was to make us want to learn. I’m not quite sure how he ac­com­plished that feat ex­cept he loved his job and loved us and we loved him. We still do.

We gath­ered around the ta­ble as he rem­i­nisced about our times to­gether at Rus­sell High School and he told some of us for the first time about his ex­pe­ri­ences in World War II when his re­con­nais­sance unit hap­pened upon a Ger­man ma­chine gun nest shortly af­ter D-Day. Three of his com­rades were killed and he was se­verely in­jured. Mr. Gatlin was cap­tured and spent 10 months as a POW be­fore be­ing lib­er­ated in May 1945. He still car­ries the phys­i­cal scars to this day.

Many of those lis­ten­ing in rapt si­lence to him that day are grand­par­ents or great-grand­par­ents. Some are wid­owed. There were bankers and pro­fes­sors and home­mak­ers and shop own­ers and even a re­tired FBI agent. None of us re­sem­ble the fresh faces that ap­peared in our year­book. But to Bill Gatlin, we were and still are “his chil­dren.”

A lot has changed since I sat in Mr. Gatlin’s class­room those many years ago, but one thing has not: To­day, as then, teach­ing re­mains a noble pro­fes­sion. Re­mem­ber ev­ery day why you do this. May you find the joy in shap­ing the lives of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions and have a bunch of old peo­ple show up at your birth­day party one day and tell you that you made a dif­fer­ence in their life. Just ask Bill Gatlin how that feels. My deep­est ap­pre­ci­a­tion to him for what he did for me and for giv­ing me the abil­ity to tell you about it.

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