Southern Fried Schoolin’

True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.”
― Kurt Vonnegut

For some reason, a memory of a manure spreader hooked to the back of a pickup truck as they waited in the school’s carpool line wandered through my mind. A smelly, just used manure spreader at that. It is just a normal day in the rural South. A manure spreader one day, a hay bailer the next…just another day in the sunny South. Why am I thinking about manure spreaders? I don’t know but I’m sure the thought was triggered by something one of our politicians said.

This is the tenth-year anniversary of my last year teaching full time. Time flies and I’m amazed at the changes that have occurred in public education in the decade since I retired. Changes that I saw on the horizon ten years ago. I was fortunate to escape the ‘looney bin’ that has become public education. I was lucky they didn’t lock the doors until after I escaped.

As I look back on my career, memories allow me to smile. As I look to the future I realize, if faced with the same two choices of careers when I graduated from college, I would pick the other. There doesn’t seem to be much joy in teaching these days and that is a shame. It is better to focus on warm memories than the cold future of education. Hopefully, you will smile too.  

Just like politics, there are differences between schoolin’ in an urban setting and a rural setting…and even more so, in a Southern rural setting. I received my “schoolin’” in a Southern rural school and was lucky to teach in a couple of small rural middle and high schools over my forty plus years.

In a Southern rural school, one sees and hears things you do not see anywhere else. I am somewhat of an authority having taught both in urban, inner-city schools, affluent suburban schools, and Southern rural schools, one tucked so far back into the sticks the only air pollution was the tart smell of a nearby moonshine still or the woodsmoke from the fire cookin’ the corn liquor.

During my high school days, I took agriculture classes as electives and was an active participant in the FFA. I was a member of the cattle judging and soil judging teams…soil judging? I judge you to be dirty. I can honestly say, “I’ve never used what I learned about cows or soil in my everyday life.” I do try to grow tomatoes, so I guess soil judging paid off.

Frequently the agriculture class would travel to local farms in the springtime to assist in the castration of bull calves. Always a fun time to be had by all except the calves we wrestled to the ground. Holding on to a rear leg for dear life, the scared animal decided to spray us with solid waste. I doubt an urban school would have an entire class dismissed because they were covered in cow poop.

Later, during my teaching career, I found myself tardy for an interview because of a small wagon being pulled by a team of burros on a narrow and curvy country road. Passing was impossible and the gentleman handling the rig was in no mood to pull over. I found out it was just the local drunk who had lost his driver’s license and was on his way to pick up his daily allotment of MD 2020 or Boones Farm. I guess if you are sober enough to hitch up a team of burros, you are sober enough to drive them.

One of my teaching stops celebrated “ride your horse to school day” in the early Fall and another “drive your tractor to school day” in the late Spring. They weren’t school sanctioned, just something that happened. In between there were rodeos and turkey shoots that many of the students from both schools participated in.

One Spring Fling, held on the baseball field, required an outfield cleanup before we could play again after the “cow patty drop” fund raiser. The outfield was gridded and numbered; each grid sold for five dollars. Ole Betty the cow was led out and turned loose. Whichever grid Betty first pooped in won some lucky soul half the pot, the other half was donated to the athletic department. Anything to make a dollar and it could have been worse, “cow patty toss?”

One school might as well have called off school on the first day of deer hunting season as our attendance went down by at least a third. Most days there was someone dressed in camo with an orange or yellow vest sitting in class who had been in the woods very, very early. I’m sure there were shotguns hidden behind the seats of many pickups in the student parking lot so their owners could get a jump on an evening spent in a deer stand.

I once told my classes that I didn’t care if they ate snacks if they did it quietly and shared with the rest of the class…and their teacher. I’ve never understood keeping growing teenagers from eating despite school rules to the contrary. One student brought a large tub of boiled peanuts and a fresh roll of paper towels for us all to eat on. Another provided me with homemade deer jerky on a weekly basis during deer season. Boiled peanuts and homemade deer jerky were acceptable as classroom snacks or party appetizers and were some of the best Christmas presents, I ever received. You can keep your shiny red apple or fruit cake.

At the urban schools where I taught, I never paused baseball practice to watch a deer sprint across the outfield before escaping by jumping the left centerfield fence or stopped practice when a parent brought by the five-hundred-pound boar hog he had killed. We were the only folks around to show off for I guess, and we stood around the truck bed and expressed our awe to the proud hunter. We ate slow cooked Boar BBQ two days later. Being nice does pay off.

While I’m on pigs, being late to school because “the pigs got out” was an acceptable reason to be tardy…or goats, cows, chickens, and horses.

A teaching peer once asked me, “What was the difference between teaching at the affluent, suburban (so and so) High School and the poorer, rural (the other) High School?”

I smiled, “At (so and so) High School if the conversation included ‘I shot’ it was about golf. At (the other) High School, it was about hunting.”

If you enjoyed this, you might enjoy one of Don Miller’s nonfiction works. His latest nonfiction is “Pig Trails and Rabbit Holes” and may be purchase in paper back or downloaded through Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Pig-Trails-Rabbit-Holes-Southerner/dp/B09GQSNYL2/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3QCP1VFAVULJY&keywords=Pig+Trails+and+Rabbit+Holes&qid=1679679089&sprefix=pig+trails+and+rabbit+holes%2Caps%2C213&sr=8-1

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