It was 39 degrees and the wind felt like the only thing between it and the North Pole was one telephone pole and two strands of barbed wire as I pulled in the parking lot of Central United Methodist in Decatur about 9:30 on a recent morning.
While I am well past the scurrying stage of life, I headed for the church door in my best imitation of doing just that. It was warm inside and laughter and voices signaled I was in the right place. The monthly meeting of the Morgan County retired educators group was about to begin.
Easily more than 50 people were already there, many covering a table with homemade goodies There were hugs for longtime friends and colleagues and a handshake and big smile for first-timers like me.
We all mixed and mingled for a spell as Southerners tend to do. And of course we sampled the food. I zeroed in on the deviled eggs.
After a devotional, the pledge of allegiance, recognition of guests and new members, the speaker was generously introduced. He was in his 70’s with a white beard and a portly figure. And since he had the same name as I do, I took the stage.
I have had the good fortune of speaking to retired educator gatherings all over the state. From Escambia County to Lauderdale County, from Henry County to Sumter County. I always look forward to these events and I never failed to be awed at my audience and the great debt of gratitude we all owe them. This morning there were easily several hundred years of experience of working with young people gathered in the Central United Methodist Church.
Whatever Alabama is today is because of the devotion and dedication of these educators. They took up tickets at Friday ball games, they missed supper with their own family because they were at PTA meetings, they tried to mend broken hearts and busted knees. They reached in their own pocket for money for school supplies. They taught and coached and counseled–and sometimes cried.
They were not perfect. But in most cases they were answering a still small voice that once called them to work with young people. And they did it to the best of their ability. Today they all have stories. Some that are truly uplifting about a child who overachieved. Others are not because they are about youngsters who fell through the cracks, in spite of a teacher’s compassion and caring.
Sadly, many of these educators are now distressed at what they see and hear. When a legislator talks about how weak our schools are, they are casting rocks at these very souls, who I’m sure often wonder about the naysayers, just how many days did you spend standing in front of a classroom?
When our new state school superintendent says that we have math teachers in Alabama who could not work in another state, he is helping destroy all these educators spent lifetimes sweating over.
Sure it was cold that morning and it was a 400-mile roundtrip from Montgomery and back. But it was worth it to be among these people and to honor their legacy. To bad others don’t understand this.