Retired teachers discuss change

Published 11:00 pm Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Betty Wagoner is one of those “unusual” teachers who retires and then goes back to the classroom.

Although the new technology is somewhat of a mystery to her, she accepted the challenges of learning new ways of doing things.



Wagoner started teaching in 1968 or 1969, she can’t remember.

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“I started teaching art and then went to business, so I’ve seen a lot of changes – new programs and new ways of doing things,” she said. “But, I’m not the kind of person to stay home. I like to keep busy, so when I was offered the opportunity to work part time at Charles Henderson High School and work with the seniors and do the yearbook, I said, ‘yes.’”

Wagoner said change is constant and she has seen a lot of change, but not in the students.

“Children are children,” she said. “There’s not any difference between the children in the 1960s and the ones in 2013. They are still children.”

Wagoner said that working with children gives her the opportunity to continue to learn and to be involved in “good things.”

“I’ve had to learn about things that I never thought I would have to learn about,” she said. “But, these new ways are, in a lot of ways, better ways. It’s much easier to put the yearbook together on the computer than it was to put the names on a picture and stick it on a piece of paper. Now, the students can go to the lab and learn to speak German. They have Smartboards and all kinds of devices that make learning more interesting and entertaining.”

Wagoner said computers take a lot of “by hand” work off teacher loads and the records clerk is a blessing to teachers.

As far as discipline, Wagoner said she doesn’t have one minute of trouble from her 136 seniors.

“I love being at school and working with the children,” she said. “It’s all about the children. I feel blessed to be doing what I’m doing.”

Wagoner took a two-year break from the classroom to participate in a federal project in which she was the art and music coordinator for districts in Alabama, California, Oregon and Ohio. As much as she enjoyed the travel and the opportunities, she missed the daily contact with students. She eagerly returned to the classroom.

And, that’s exactly the way it was, when she “retired.”

“I missed the young’us,” Wagoner said.

Looking back on her teaching career, Wagoner said that, if she had the chance to do things differently, she might.

“I had the opportunity to work with the state arts program and I turned it down because I didn’t want to have drive to Montgomery every day,” she said. “I think I would have enjoyed that.”

But, after a thought, Wagoner added. “No. I probably would do it all over again because I love my young’uns. I have no regrets. I’m doing exactly what I want to do. I get to do graduation, plan programs for class day and awards day and Black History Day, Constitution Day, homecoming. It’s like having the icing on the cake. What’s better than that?”

Betty Hixon came in under the technology and isn’t as quick as Wagoner to embrace it.

She retired from teaching in 2002 and, honestly, Hixon said “I’m glad I’m not there.”

“I’m an old fashioned kind of teacher,” she said, laughing. “I don’t think that I could handle the technology.”

Hixon retired after 43 years in the classroom, 32 of those years at Pike Liberal Arts School.

“My mother was an English teacher and that was part of my motivation to teach,” she said. “And, too, back then there weren’t many choices for women. Not many fields were open to us, not like there are now.”

Hixon said she was always happy and content in the classroom. She never wanted to be an administrator. But odds are that she would have made a good administrator because she was known throughout her career as a strict disciplinarian. There was no doubt as to who was in control in Hixon’s classroom. And, if there just happened to be some doubt, it was quickly laid to rest.

“In the earlier days of teaching, teachers had more control of the students,” Hixon said. “Of course, there can always problems but, back then, teachers could control the students much easier. Most of the time, if a student got a paddling at school, he or she got another one at home.”

Although saying so might not be politically correct, Hixon added, “Back then, we also had prayer in school.”

Hixon said her secret to classroom discipline was keeping the students busy.

“I did a lot of planning,” she said. “And, I planned for the whole period. That way the students couldn’t get bored and start getting into things. My students would sometimes complain that they didn’t get to do this or that in my class.

“Max Ellis said that if there were two minutes left in the class, I would start something new. That was my plan – to keep them busy the whole time.”

Hixon said teaching methods have changed markedly since she first walked in the classroom.

“I’m a little skeptical of all the technology,” she said. “There’s a huge advantage to having interaction with a live teacher. When taking courses on line, you don’t have the opportunity for the experience of a bona fide teacher. Everything is cut and dried.”

Handling the challenges of the new technology would be an obstacle for Hixon.

“I had to worry about students sneaking a phone in the classroom,” she said. “Now, you look around and they all have their heads down, texting or whatever it is they do. I’m glad I’m not there fooling with it.”

With the “ease” of the new technology, there are loses that will probably never be made up, Hixon said.

“Young people can’t spell. They abbreviate everything,” she said. “You might was well throw cursive writing out the window. If they can’t punch, they print. Yes. I’m old fashioned. I don’t want to go with the flow.”

Looking back, Hixon said the rewards of teaching are many. Being a part of so many young lives is an awesome opportunity but also a huge responsibility.

“But knowing that I possibly touched someone’s life and made a positive difference is the greatest reward of all,” she said.