Agriculture and Natural Resources
My mother is seventy-three. Her once jet black hair is now grey. Her large, deep brown eyes are not as bright as they once were, and many times when I visit, I can see that she is tired. Her 5’5 delicate frame has been diminished to 5’3 by osteoporosis and vertebral fractures. She naps often. Even with her medical problems, she also laughs often and in true southern style, cooks often and loves to work in her vegetable and flower gardens.
My father is seventy-three. His dark hair is also turning grey, but unlike my mother, he is still strong. It is rare that I ever see my father tired. His 6’2 frame stands straight and, even at his age, he is a man one notices in a crowd. He has a sideways grin and eyes full of mischief. He watches over all the women in his life and helps my mother. He loves to fish and hunt. He loves when his family visits.
Both my parents were born and raised in rural West Tennessee. They have never traveled to other countries. They speak no foreign language, unless one considers “Southern” a foreign language which I know many do. My parents do not read the works of Shakespeare, the writings of Aristotle, or listen to the music of Beethoven or Bach. They have no published scientific articles. They have no letters before or after their names. My father has a sixth grade education. My mother has a high school education. Even though my parents are not well educated, traveled, or cultured, everything I learned about teaching, about people, and about life, in one way or another, I learned from them. My parents are my most priceless mentors.
My earliest memories of my parents all involve teaching. Though neither of my parents are teachers in the accredited sense, aren’t all parents teachers? My father, like any father, has taught me many things. One thing my father taught me was how to guide a horse by manipulating the reins. I can remember at the age of four my little hands inside his bigger hands and with a very slight tug on the reins, the horse would turn the way I wanted it to go. The lesson was very simple: with kindness, gentleness, and patience, sometimes the largest of beast can be controlled with the smallest touch. In the classroom, I will admit that sometimes the beast, whether it be student or course content, needs a more aggressive approach, but most of the time my father’s approach works best.
My mother also taught me a great deal about teaching. She would read to me often. I can still remember how her long, thin finger would touch each word she read, so that I could learn the structure of words, sounds of letters, and how sentences worked together. She spent countless hours reading with me even though she had a million other things to do. The dishes would still need to be washed, clothes ironed, garden tended, and supper cooked, but that didn’t matter. She gave of herself and of her limited time to teach me. With all the other tasks we as teachers must complete, sometimes I have to remind myself that I am here to teach. My time may be limited, I may have a hundred other things to do, but I must always give the students “their” time. I need only to look at my mother’s example to be reminded of this.
As well as important principles to take to the classroom, my parents also taught me about people, the ones in the classroom. After all, isn’t knowledge of people as integral in teaching as knowledge of science and pedagogical methods? My parent’s principles are basic when it comes to people. Everyone is equal, no matter their race, creed, or color. Everyone is a child of God and should be treated with respect. Everyone deserves a chance and a second or third or fourth try. There are some, however, that will take advantage of you, that will try you, that will be dishonest with you. Sometimes, with some people, you just have to give up and walk away. Always remember, however, that most people are good. It may take care and understanding to see the good in people but the outcome is well worth the effort.
In the classroom, I have found that these principles hold true. Most of the time, I find that if I am fair and respect my students, they respect me. I find that the second or third chance, if given, is usually taken and greatly appreciated. I have also found, in my short time teaching, that there are some I cannot help and therefore, I must walk away. All in all, however, I have found, in my classroom, good young men and women that with a little nudge, a little push, turn into excellent students and scholars. An outcome that is well worth the effort.
Along with teaching and the nature of people, my parents have also taught me much about life and what a difference one person can make in this life. Both my parents have had to struggle in some way through this life, as I am sure most all people do, but their struggles seem, to me, more basic than most struggles we encounter today. They were born right after the depression, and memories of the depression still lingered in the minds of the adults around them. Poverty was their constant companion. They grew up in a different world and a different time.
My father was the eldest of six children born to a loving, righteous woman and a drinking, bootlegging sharecropper. At the age of twelve, my father was 6’2 and large enough and strong enough to work full time in the saw mills. He was sent away from home to work during the week and returned on weekends with money for his family. Since his father was usually away either drinking or gambling, my father was the father figure for his five younger siblings and the only reliable income for his entire family.
My father has many stories of his childhood. I have heard several, but I am quite sure there are stories I will never hear nor want to hear. There are a few happy stories, but most of his stories are grim. I have noticed that these stories are usually only told when I need to be reminded of some important life principle or need to remember how blessed I truly am. My father tells of crippling poverty and a dysfunctional family. In one story, he tells of a reoccurring dream he had as a child. In the dream, my grandfather had yet again gambled away the rent, and they had been evicted from their home. It was snowing outside, and my father and his siblings were standing naked in the cold. All his siblings were looking to him for help, but he could give no help because he had no money.
I remember his dream and as I grow older, I realize that there were many illegal ways to make money in the backwoods of Tennessee when my father was young. My father, however, chose to do back breaking work and to be an honest man. He chose to go down a different path than my grandfather. My father has taught me that no matter what your life may be, you and only you are responsible for your actions, your choices. He has taught me that people can rise above their circumstances, their education, and their childhood. He has taught me that the honest way is the only way, even though it may not be the easiest way. He has taught me that to a large extent, life is what you make of it not what it makes of you.
My mother, unlike my father, had a happy childhood. Even though her family was poor, she was blessed with two good, upstanding parents. They all worked together, parents and children, to make the best of the situation. Her stories of childhood are bright and filled with fond memories. There is no sadness in her voice when she speaks of the past. My mother’s parents stressed education and biblical principles to their children. They wanted their children to be productive members of society and to have advantages they never had. My mother has handed down those same principles to me. She has taught me the importance of hard work and a good education. She has taught me, along with my father, the importance also, of trying to be a good person, a happy person and to serve God.
Finally, my parents have taught me, along with my grandparents, what a difference one person can make in the life of others. When I attend family reunions, I am amazed at the differences in my mother’s and father’s families. On one hand, my father’s family has many problems. My father is, by far, the most stable, moral, and responsible member of his family. Drug use, alcoholism, and basic family dysfunction run rampant through three generations on his side of the family. He made a conscious choice to be different. On the other hand, my mother’s family is the definition of moral, productive, and ethical. There are doctors, engineers, teachers, preachers, and the list goes on. More important than their career titles, however, my mother’s family boasts three generations of children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren that have loving, supportive families. My mother, father, and their families have taught me that in this life, one person can make a difference. One person and how they live, their morals, and their ethics affect not only themselves but those around them not only in this life, but in generations to come.
As a teacher, I must constantly remind myself of what my parents have taught me. Do I take enough time with my students? Do I respect my students and give them second chances? Am I fair and impartial? Do I show my students that ultimately it is their choice whether they fail or succeed? Do I let them know their education and their success is important not only to them, but also to me? Most importantly, do I remember that I, one person, can make a difference in the lives of my students? If I am anything like my parents, I will remember.
On Mother’s Day weekend, I went home. My mother took several naps over the weekend, and even though she was tired and it was supposedly “her” weekend, she had already cooked two chocolate cakes, cleaned the house, and was busy with preparations for dinner Saturday night. I noticed the book she is currently reading lying on the kitchen counter. The title of the book is “What Example Will You Leave for Others to Follow? My father took the boys fishing. I am sure they talked about the fine points of fishing, boat safety, and responsible driving while towing a boat (the sixteen year old drove home). When they arrived back home, my father put all the tackle in order, ate dinner, and then washed dishes for the family. He told my sister and me to relax. He is presently reading, The Biblical Definition of Love.
My parents are seventy-three. My parents have grey hair and the twinkle that was once in their eyes has faded a bit. My mother is not as strong as she once was. My father helps her, watches over her, and through it all, they still teach. They teach by their words and their examples. As with any good teacher, they know they have not learned, even at seventy-three, all they want or need to know. They are still reading, still learning, still trying to better themselves and those around them, their daughters, their grandsons, their families. For all these reasons, and many more, my parents are my most priceless mentors.