By Jody Fuller
Over the years, I’ve spoken to teachers and faculty at system wide inservices for school systems all over the great state of Alabama. I’ve spoken in towns most have never heard of such as the mini-metropolis of Vina, where I addressed the Franklin County School System. A day later, I drove east and had the pleasure of motivating an awesome crowd of professionals in Cherokee County. Their superintendent was a great guy named Mr. Guice.
I’ve had great experiences in South Alabama, too, whether it was Mobile, Andalusia, or Crenshaw County. I won’t name every school system, but there have been quite a few. Teachers are teachers no matter where I go. Teachers do an amazing job, oftentimes with limited resources. As with any profession, there are exceptions to this rule, but they are truly the exception and not the rule. I have great admiration for educators.
Administrators like bring me in to kick of the school year. It’s a break from the norm. I like to think my presentation is humorous and motivational. Some even call it inspiring. I simply appreciate the opportunity to get up and talk. I’m a stuttering guy who speaks for a living. If that’s not proof that America is the land of opportunity, then I don’t know what is.
I tell my story and about how teachers impacted me during my school days and how they continue to impact me to this day. Mr. Young was my seventh grade Industrial Arts teacher. The year was 1985. He often said, “I don’t care what you think about me now. I care what you think about me in 20 years.” He retired after our class and was replaced by a young teacher fresh out of college. His name was Mr. Guice. Yep, the same guy.
Seventh grade was tough. I was picked on that year for stuttering more than any other era of my life. The eighth graders were just mean, and my fellow seventh graders tried to be cool and blend in with the older crowd. It sucked, but I survived. It also sucked because I vandalized my yearbook. It wasn’t done purposely. Many of my peers used highlighters to highlight names and pictures of friends and classmates. I reckon I didn’t know what a highlighter was, so I used a black magic marker. Half of the names in my yearbook are blacked out. I even drew sunglasses on some of the fellas. Who was that masked man anyway?
Eighth grade was different. I came out of my shell. Mrs. Leonard, my Language Arts teacher, really got me going. She made me get up and talk during class. Until then, many teachers had coddled me in an effort to protect me from getting picked on. While I appreciate their kindness, that is not the real world. Mrs. Leonard held my feet to the fire, and I will always be grateful for that. To her credit, she takes no credit for it. In her mind, she was just doing her job and taking care of a student. Today, she is a dear friend.
A couple of years ago, I had the honor of speaking to the faculty of Tallapoosa County Schools. While it wasn’t necessarily home, it was the next best thing. Both my mother and father are graduates of Dadeville High School, as were all my aunts and uncles. In fact, my Uncle Glenn went on to be the school principal at Horseshoe Bend, one of the schools which makes up the system. I did Lanett’s school system, too. Their superintendent is Uncle Glenn’s former student.
This year, I was asked to speak to the faculty of Opelika City Schools. I’ve done some cool things over the years, but this was at or near the top. I was finally coming home to speak to the school system that I called home for 12 years. For you math majors out there, I didn’t go to kindergarten. Some of my favorite teachers were in attendance. A few of them are still teaching, while others came out of retirement to listen to one of their former students who could never keep his mouth shut during class. It’s funny how things work out. It was an honor to have them there. Unfortunately, Mrs. Leonard was in California and couldn’t be there.
Mr. Young was there, in his own way. He passed away last year, and I had the honor of being a pall bearer at his funeral. The day before I spoke to Opelika City Schools, Mr. Young’s grandson called me. His grandmother had something she wanted to give me. They had no idea who I was speaking to the next day. It was a 1985 yearbook, and it was in mint condition. There were no masked men. There were no marked out names. I’d even signed it. I’m thankful to Mrs. Young and continue to be thankful to Mr. Young as he continues to impact his students to this day. I had that yearbook with me on stage.
I’m thankful to Opelika City Schools for letting me come home. I’ll never forget it.