East Burke High School, where I had the pleasure of teaching English from August 1999 to June 2008, was a wonderful place to work.
My colleagues, who welcomed, accepted and supported a middle-aged guy who had never taught school before, were fantastic people – talented, creative and, most of all, dedicated to teaching.
The administrators of the school also were outstanding. Yes, they chewed my behind a few times over nine years, but never when I didn't deserve it. They gave me the opportunity and the time to grow into my new profession and the guidance to do so.
And the students? Well, no question, they were the best part of the job.
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Of the 1,000 or more who passed through my classes over the course of a decade, 99 percent were absolutely top-notch.
So why would I leave this place where I had grown comfortable and content and join the faculty of Draughn High School? Well, the answers are several.
One is that “comfortable and content” can have its downside. New challenges and new situations help to keep the mind stimulated and the outlook fresh, even for a 53-year-old.
Another reason is the opportunity to be a charter faculty member of a brand-new school, to be present from day one, both for the pains of the birthing process and for the joys of seeing good ideas and good plans come to fruition.
Draughn, in Valdese, is also a smaller school than East Burke, and I think that reduced size will be welcomed by students, faculty, administration, parents and the entire community.
Drexel High School, from which I was graduated in 1973, had fewer than 400 students. My own graduating class numbered exactly 87 members.
Yet, though the school was small, its influence in the community was enormous. It was the focal point for civic pride and local activities. Everyone in town, young and old, was proud to be a Drexel Wolverine.
Draughn, while not as small as Drexel, will be small enough, I trust, to give its students, their parents and the surrounding community a sense of ownership. Soon Wildcat pride will run deep here as well.
My final reason for wanting to come to Draughn is a very selfish one, but one that can be understood by anyone who has ever visited East Burke or its sister school in Morganton, Freedom High School.
The two schools were constructed in the early 1970s when “open” classrooms were the latest trend and supposedly the wave of the future.
Trendy they may have been, but functional and efficient they were not.
Literally hundreds of students were packed into a big circle with only tiny walls, at best, separating one teaching area from another. A student could sit in one area and often hear the teachers in three other areas better than he could hear his own.
Almost as difficult to deal with as the noise and distraction was that the buildings were designed with no windows. Sun, snow, rainbows and clouds all passed unknown and unnoted no matter what the season.
Draughn, praise God, has no such physical shortcomings. Instead, it has conventional classrooms with walls, doors, ceilings, windows and light – lots and lots of life-affirming, spirit-lifting natural light.
My own room sits at the end of a long hallway. Its three large windows, which take up nearly an entire wall, face west. From my desk I look out over the rolling green of the campus and, more distant, the towering wall of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
As a new school year begins, I will miss East Burke and its people more than I can say, and I will always feel in my heart a deep debt of gratitude for all they did for me.
But as August rolls toward September and with it all the challenges and rewards that working with young people can bring, it feels good to be at Draughn High School.
It feels good to be home.