Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Why teach? (Tom Ruark)

Tom Ruark-You are a math genius (make that geek) and an absolutely amazing writer. Share with me why you are teaching 5th grade at Chets Creek and not working in the corporate world making bundles of money$

PS. I can’t wait to see you wear the Tinkerbell necklace!!

Betsy, I have always considered you to be a kindred spirit, and I am honored by your flattering words and your question.

I don’t know that anyone could succinctly state why they are where they are at any point in life. I know that I cannot do so. Still, I can try to describe some of the events and reasoning that have led me to my current wonderful post.

First and foremost, I am the product of very wonderful parents who have always been focused on making the world a better place for others. I was born in 1963 in Montgomery Alabama, ground zero for the civil rights movement. My father was a pastor at a Presbyterian church that was across the street from George Wallace’s church. My father spearheaded a movement to integrate his church and was successful in doing so. On the first day that black visitors arrived, said visitors all sat alone in the balcony of the church. My mother saw what was happening and left her place in the church choir to join the new members in the balcony. This so enraged some senior members of the church that they fired my dad. In the end, after much litigation, a settlement was agreed on, and my father was forced to leave, but he was given a position as a campus pastor at the University of Georgia.

Though I have no direct memories of those events, they do frame the environment in which I grew up. When I was five or six, I went to integrated summer camps that my father helped create in Pensacola. So, I cried with some real understanding when Dr. King was killed in 1968. I went on to idolize Hank Aaron and Jackie Robinson as a young school aged kid, and read every book ever written about either man. I was bound and determined to play second base, Hank Aaron’s first position in the majors, for the Atlanta Braves, but I had to settle for second base on my Cedar Hills’ Athletic Association team! Over the years, my father continued to be a passionate man bound and determined to do the right things in life. When he retired in 2002, 2500 people showed up for a celebration in his honor. In all honesty, he enriched the lives of tens of thousands. Two words: Big Shoes!

For quite a while, I determined that I was going to take the polar–opposite approach to life and rebel against my father’s virtues as many high school kids do. However, I did manage to graduate, barely, and headed off to the University of Florida at the tender age of 17. I lasted 2 months, one summer semester. A shy kid at a huge school was a horrible mix. I came back to Jacksonville, back to my real home, and enrolled at FJC (not a typo). I then proceeded to acquire 96 credit hours though only 60 were required to move on. I took classes that I did not have to take just because they sounded cool. I loved meteorology and my humanities classes, but I never could get myself to take the classes that I needed to take in order to graduate. Yes, I was spending my money to take classes that I did not need. Finally, my family became a bit concerned, and voiced their concern rather forcefully. Under such extreme pressure, I decided that everyone would respect a business degree. So, I got one! Banking and Finance from UNF, and it only took seven years to do so (with time spent in the interim at UNCC playing soccer and riding motorcycles yada yada). With my fabulous degree in hand, it was pretty fab as it included the honor of being the number one business student, I set out to look for work. Mind you, I still had no clue what I could do or even what I wanted to do. Finally, after convincing some personnel paper pusher that I was not a total nerd, I got a job in the insurance industry. I dutifully served my company for a whole two years, before I decided that a well-trained monkey could do the same job without the misery. It was time to move on.

In moving on, I took a great step back into the past and reenrolled at the newly acronymed FCCJ where I learned how to work on automobiles. I became a Certified Master Mechanic! I bought car after car. I would fix them and then resell them, sometimes even at a profit! In fact, I started my own business restoring antique and classic cars. I even had my own sign right on Mayport Road, and, unfortunately, right next to crime central. In short, cars were stolen. I lost a bunch of money, and shut down. Still, I had a ton of fun, and I have an awesome collection of tools!

Reality set in, and I went back to work for another insurance company, and within months I was bored to tears and wishing that a well-trained sub-primate would show up in my cubical. Soon though, things changed, my first daughter, Shannon, was born. I swear, when I first saw her and got to hold her, a voice spoke to me and said, “This is what you are supposed to do! You are a dad! You love kids!” It was an awesome and completely surreal experience. You must believe me. I am not making this up. So, after a year or so, I decided to go back to school to get CERTIFIED! Then my first wife came home spouting something about another guy and divorce, and once again, my plans came to a screeching halt. Bummer!

Fortunately, I got some great advice from a guy that told me to stick to my guns. He said that all really bright people should be teachers, because teachers are NEVER bored. He said that no two days would ever be the same. I now know that no two seconds are ever the same, which is even better! My family backed my play, and I did find a way to get CERTIFIED! I was back at the University enjoying my classes and learning with a vengeance. In the process, I interned at San Pablo Elementary where I met Lisa Rickerson. Lisa let me volunteer my time in her class for two years. Those two years are beyond my ability to describe. I learned that I could love 32 kids at a time, and that meant that I got love from 32 kids at a time. Try getting any love in the corporate world. It’s just not going to happen. I was now in a world where each child hung on my every word, and all they asked in return was that I occasionally listen to their stories about puppies or skateboarding. It was heaven on Earth, and it still is! No amount of money can warm your heart, but a child can. No corporate email can really change a person’s life, but the words of a teacher or student can. No corporate CEO has more responsibility or reaps more rewards. No corporate CEO goes to sleep remembering a child’s smile, but I do more often than not.

As a footnote, my “wife for life”, Tracy, just got outsourced from her high-paying executive job, and she has chosen to enter our world. She came home from Chets the other day after doing some volunteer work and said, “ Honey, I was walking in the hall today, and some kid just smiled at me. It made me feel so wonderful,” This from a tough New York chick. There is real magic here! Donald Trump has nothing that I need, and I have everything that he wants.



Sherrie Anderson said...

You simply warm my heart.

I wish I had your way with words.

Dorry Lopez said...

At about 3:00 in the wee hours of the morning, I find myself reading your response. I was enthralled learning so much about you! What a gift you have with writing! I had no idea of the many paths that finally led you to teaching. That was a great story about your life! Thanks for sharing!