Education Desk: Rookie Teacher At Age 59

Sep 20, 2016

Jim Melvin is finally fulfilling a lifelong dream. He's a rookie in the classroom, but a seasoned veteran at real life. At age 59, he's in his first full year of teaching social studies at V.I.T. High School -- a small school near Macomb, Illinois.

 

Interview Highlights

  On his path to being a teacher:

“I always wanted to be a teacher, and when I graduated from high school back in 1975, that was my goal: I wanted to become a teacher. But things happen. Life happens, there are detours and roadblocks and curves in your life’s journey, and I couldn’t go to college. I didn’t have the funds. I ended up going into the military. After I got out of the military, I ended up getting a really good job with the postal service….

"I got my associate’s degree while working for the postal service, and my advisor back then said that I needed to finish my degree and go into teaching, that I would be a wonderful teacher. And while I appreciated it …. I told him I can’t give up the job I have. It pays too well, the benefits are too good , I would lose money to go down into teaching.”

On the perks of teaching in a small school:

“I am the social studies department. I pretty much decide what I’m going to do…. I like to joke around that the department meetings get a little raucous but I always win in the end.”

On the most surprising thing about public schools in 2016:

“When I went to school in the ‘70s, special education wasn’t even really a regular discipline and most kids who had a lot of challenges were kept in a segregated environment and we really had limited exposure to them. And one of the things that I found that I felt was really good -- not only educationally but socially -- is how much they’re involved in the regular classroom environment and how well the students accept these children as just one of their classmates. There’s not a stigma for the most part with these kids, and I think it’s a wonderful thing.”

On whether he regrets not becoming a teacher sooner:

“I wonder just how good I could’ve been, or how much more of an impact I could’ve had …. But I still realize that my first responsibility was to my family to make sure that they had the best that I could give them, and to do that by staying in the postal service was the right decision, because the salary that I earned and the benefits I had were more than double what I’m earning as a teacher.”

On whether the above reality makes sense:

“I understand the political dynamic, but I was a postmaster for a number of years, and yeah, there’s a certain amount of importance to moving the mails…. But when you’re talking about being able to shape minds and help move a young person to becoming something very important in life, I think sometimes we have our priorities a bit skewed.”

On what he would tell other older adults about taking up teaching:

“If you’re going to get into this profession, especially later in life like I did, you have to understand that it’s not something that you can just half-way do. It requires all of your attention, all of your focus, and there’s going to be times when you’re going to be worn out, you’re exhausted, and you’re going to say why am I doing this? And that’s when you have to dig deeper and say: This is because I really want to be able to get in front of a group of young minds and make a difference.”