This is the third in a series of articles that will be running through next week in celebration of the beginning of the new school year. The Independent is sitting down with some retired Magoffin County teachers to help tell their stories.
Justine Adams remembers her first year of teaching as a challenging one, but she stuck with it for 31 more years, retiring in 1994.
Adams, who started teaching in 1962, said the superintendent first asked her to go to all of the grade schools to teach art, but while she was in the process of making a schedule to manage that task, he changed it to spending half of a day at Salyersville Grade School and the other half of the day at the high school.
She would start her day at the high school, behind where the current Magoffin County Board of Education office sits today.
“I had three classes in the morning,” Adams remembered. “The first class was all boys, and there wasn’t a room for me. The superintendent told me to get the principal to put me in for a half day, and there was an office in the block building, which was the main building of the school at the time. There was an office that had been a principal’s office and it was behind the stage on the second floor of the stone building. There was a counselor’s office behind the stage, too, and that’s where they put me, with 10 students in each class.”
Her first class was all boys, second all girls and the third class was a mix of boys and girls.
After third period, she would go to Salyersville Grade School, then located where the community center is now, to teach art to the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth-grade classes, moving to each classroom on a rotating schedule.
“It was a rough year for a beginner, but I survived it,” Adams said.
The next year she taught art full-time at the high school, where she remained until she retired, though when Connie Cecil started teaching art, she switched to teaching English, in which she had a degree.
“I enjoyed teaching both, but it was less expensive to teach English,” Adams laughed. “The supplies were very limited. I had a budget of $20, so most of my supplies were out of pocket.”
She said she would get supplies for her class at Terry Office Supply in Paintsville, where she could get a discount since they knew she was a teacher, but oil paints, pastels and charcoal still added up.
“It was a lot cheaper to teach English,” Adams said. “We called it ‘the good ol’ days,’ but the old days were not as good as we thought they were. Teachers are luckier today than we were back then. We had a chalkboard and supplies were few and far between.”
For several years Adams was a senior sponsor, taking a class to the World’s Fair in New York.
“Kids were different at that time,” Adams said. “They had more mature behavior and I don’t recall having any problems or issues.”
As for how she was in the classroom, Adams said she’s probably remembered as being “very strict.”
“I’m sure there’s a few that look back at how they dreaded having class under me,” Adams said. “But they discovered once in class I was not as ‘mean’ as they thought I was. My idea was if you don’t want to learn, you’re not going to distract anyone that does. If we goofed off, we all goofed off. When we worked, we all worked.”
Adams said, “You have to have rules to begin with and you can always lighten up, but it’s a little late if you wait until students are being mean.”
As for advice for current teachers, Adams said,” They probably need to think toward the good of the child and make sure they can help each individual child succeed. So many come to us without any confidence in themselves and we have a tendency to look over the little child that never says much, but that one needs just as much attention. They may not have any attention at home. We need to make them feel better about themselves. That’s a challenge in itself, let alone teach the class. A teacher has to want to do what they’re doing to be successful. If they’re there for the pay they need another job because you don’t get paid that much.”
Adams said she is sometimes surprised when she sees some of her former students.
“When I see some of my kids I had in school, they are much older than they should be,” Adams laughed. “It doesn’t seem possible, asking if I’m coming to the 50th reunion. My goodness, that’s a long time. It makes you realize your age.”
She said when she retired in 1994, the drug problem was not much of an issue, but she said she could always tell if a student had a good family structure at home, attributing the breakdown of the family to most behavioral problems in class.
“It’s continued in those families,” Adams added. “I thought maybe they would come out of that, but it’s been passed down.”
Adams said things have definitely changed since she was in school, when she went to a one-room school at the Mouth of Buffalo, right across from her home.
“I’d come to the house to eat and not pack a lunch,” Adams remembered. “The teacher wanted three of us girls to come stay all night with her and the next morning she packed a lunch for us. It was the only time I had lunch at school!”
While she taught for 32 years, she didn’t always want to be a teacher.
“I had my heart set on becoming a nurse and Dr. Lloyd M. Hall, who they named the community center after, told me, ‘You don’t want to become a nurse. They do all the dirty work,’ so he talked me out of that.”
With several teachers in her family, teaching was the next obvious career to her, allowing to make a living without moving away from the area.
“It was rewarding if you look back on it,” Adams said.
One student, in particular, stands out to Adams.
“I had one student, a girl, that for the first part of the year would pretty well participate,” Adams remembered. “English is not taught like it used to. We were diagraming sentences for the parts of speech and I had the kids go up to the board and diagram so I could see who was lagging, and I could see when it just clicked with her. You could see how proud she was and she just came out of her shell. She had accomplished something and for her behavior, that’s what got her interested. It was a strange thing to get excited about, but I always thought of her. It was a challenge to her and she did well.”
Adams was a 1957 alum of Salyersville High School, graduating from Pikeville College in 1961. She taught in Magoffin County schools from 1962 until 1994, when she retired to take care of her parents, almost making it to her goal of teaching 35 years.