Like it or not, life often takes you ‘full circle’

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

It seems my life came full circle once again.

Seven years ago this month, I announced plans to step down as the managing editor of this newspaper and return to college to pursue a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. At the time, I followed the recommendation of several teachers in the Mountain Home community who felt I would make an excellent teacher. More important, they felt I could also serve as a mentor to those needing some help to guide them through the various challenges associated with their academic requirements.

Before I started college, however, I turned to others in the school district to double check if this was a step in the right direction. It was my way of ensuring I wasn’t acting in haste and “shooting from the hip,” so to speak. During this time, I remember one district representative assuring me I would have a job waiting for me after I graduated.

Looking back on that moment, I think I should’ve gotten that in writing.

The next four years were filled with an assortment of challenges that tested my ability to apply what I had learned and expand my knowledge of various academic subjects. In addition, I took other classes to help prepare me for the various challenges I would face in my future classroom. This included helping with students dealing with what I refer to as “exceptionalities.” Granted, there was another word once used to describe these students, but I refuse to use that word – disability. From my perspective, “disability” tends to imply these students are somehow “broken” and unable to overcome the various physical, mental and emotional challenges they struggle to overcome.

At the same time, it seemed that fate had asked me to provide some needed help to my college friends who also struggled with completing various assignments. This included those with backgrounds that kept them from taking time to simply sit down and write what was on their mind. It’s a skill that often takes time to refine and not something that happens automatically, especially when it comes to creating our own, unique writing style.

When it came to writing college research papers and personal narratives, for example, some of my friends knew of my background as a newspaper reporter and editor. They often asked me to take time to look over what they had written. Each time, I provided them with what my one college professor referred to as “helpful, kind and specific” feedback. To a point, I served as a mentor to my peers and helped them successfully complete the myriad of classes we took over the next four years.

The one thing that caught me off guard involved the college-level math classes I needed to complete as part of my graduation requirements. Among the toughest involved building a clear understanding of probability and statistics to give me the skills needed to help those in grade school build a firm understanding of this form of mathematics. While there were times when I needed some time to lock this information in my mind, I kept seeing one of my college friends struggling with these assignments. Each time, I jotted down some additional notes in my notebook and flipped it around so he could easily see what I wrote. This type of help seemed to work since it gave him a different perspective that helped him better understand and apply what we learned.

I still remember one day after class when my professor came and asked, “have you ever thought about changing your endorsement area to math?” Immediately, I turned and looked over my left and right shoulders since I knew she was talking to someone behind me.

However, I saw no one behind me.

With a look of bewilderment in my eyes, I suddenly realized she had given me one of the greatest compliments I had received in a very long time.

Despite all the long hours I spent conducting research and completing my various assignments, not to mention the time I spent having to drive to and from the university three to five days a week over the span of four years, it seemed my life took me in an unexpected direction. While I had applied for a multitude of teaching jobs in the Mountain Home area, it always seemed someone else got those jobs. Many times, I didn’t even get a chance to conduct an interview with officials at these schools. Instead, I received a generic e-mail or text saying someone else got the job. It tended to frustrate me, but I later learned that teachers in our school district received top priority if they applied for a teaching job at a different school here.

Granted, I continued to serve as a substitute teacher over the next couple of years. It allowed me to apply what I had learned and use that knowledge to strengthen my ability to serve as a mentor to those in the various classrooms where I taught. This showcased the various challenges associated with guiding students at different grade levels. It also helped me understand the reasons why so many first-year teachers – about 10 percent of them on average – quit by the end of their school year. This was especially true for those who ran classrooms that focused on providing special education, or SPED, support for students with certain behavioral challenges.

The one thing I never did was give up. I invested way too much time to get where I was, and I wasn’t going to simply do something else with my time. That perseverance eventually led me to a full-time teaching job in a rural school district, which came with its own set of challenges. It was those challenges that guided me to return to Mountain Home, where my life seemed to come full circle once again as I continued to serve as a substitute teacher.

In time, I thought my life would take me in other directions I hadn’t considered. The most recent happened last September when I took over as the director of the Mountain Home Historical Museum. This role allowed me to use my 32 years of photojournalism experience to help enhance this museum’s role to preserve the history of our community and share that knowledge with visitors.

However, I ended up dealing with a number of additional challenges that I won’t mention here. Simply put, those challenges left me feeling frustrated and wondering if I needed to take my life in a different direction.

I received that answer a few days ago, when I learned the Mountain Home News needed someone to take over as the managing editor. I feel this was no coincidence. The fact I saw the “help wanted” post on its social media page immediately after I logged on to my smart phone represented a way for my life to once again come full circle.

However, I do think these past seven years did something I hadn’t considered. It gave me a chance to view different aspects of so many lives from many perspectives. To a point, it strengthened my ability to view the lives of others from various vantage points.

For that one reason, I am grateful.

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