Educator recalls starting career at Russellville High School 50 years ago
By Jim Turner

Posted on January 2, 2019 9:06 PM


A half century ago, I was halfway through my first year as a teacher, a job for which I was about halfway prepared.

At age 21 in September 1968, I began my teaching career at Russellville High School, just four years and a summer after my graduation from RHS. I was the youngest member of the faculty.

Fifty years later I am halfway through my 12th year of my current stint in education, as a college teacher. I am an assistant professor of communications at Southcentral Kentucky Community & Technical College. A full load of college teaching is considered 15 hours a semester, 30 hours per calendar year. I taught 16 courses in 2017 (48 hours) and 17 courses/51 hours in the year just ended. And at age 72, as the oldest member of a much larger faculty, I was elected this fall as one of four officers of the SKYCTC Faculty Senate.

Dean Tonya Daniels has told me repeatedly that she sees no generation gap between me and my students. I’m grateful for that. I’ve told our provost, Dr. Maggie Shelton, that I want that to continue that oldest faculty member status for a few more years. I thoroughly enjoy being a part of a college in which I believe so fully.

I’ve taught either in high school or college for 31 of these 50 years (nine at RHS, five at Logan County High School, seven at WKU and ten at SKYCTC).

As many readers know, I have also been a journalist for 48 years, beginning in my third year teaching at RHS. I worked for the local print newspaper 31 years and for WRUS five years before our son Trey and I started online publications, first Logan and Beyond and then The Logan Journal (The LoJo) 12 years ago.

Add all this together, and I’ve worked 79 years and should be celebrating my 100th birthday. The truth is for most of this half century, I’ve either been a teacher who writes or a journalist who teaches. In between I’ve sold a lot of tomatoes, beans, peas, cucumbers and okra through our family’s Turner Valley Produce business.

But in the fall of 1968, I became a teacher with very little formal preparation. The General Aptitude Test Battery that we had taken while a student at RHS said I liked working with numbers so much that I should major in accounting. It turned out the numbers that interested me were batting averages, shooting percentages, and yards per carry.

I was a senior at David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University) when I switched from an accounting major to English. I had been taking English and speech classes as electives, which had made fellow accounting majors distrust me anyway. I spent that year taking advanced language arts classes, but I wasn’t taking education courses.

Then RHS Principal R.D. Reynolds talked with me about coming home to teach. Mr. Reynolds had been an integral part of my youth. He was guidance counselor when we began high school and then became our principal when Harold Hunter retired. He also was my drama director, tennis coach and the guy who started me as a sports statistician by making me the official scorebook keeper, beginning as a sophomore. His daughter Rhonda was one of my best friends in high school.

I don’t remember my thought processes, but I said yes to joining the RHS faculty.

I began my teaching career on what was called a Professional Commitment. I didn’t have a full teacher’s certificate but was ‘committed’ to complete the requirements for it. I went back to Lipscomb three straight summers, actually doing my student teaching after I had already taught a year.

I had a great background in English from my high school teachers, Eleanor Piper and Miss Ruth Carpenter. The two years of Latin I took from Katherine Lyle Stengell were among the most valuable I ever studied. Since most English words are derived from Latin, those two courses gave me valuable resources for English, speech and journalism. My English and speech teachers at Lipscomb were excellent, and I had been on the speech team and appeared in plays in college.

Additionally, I had a solid resource in one of the best teachers I ever knew, my mother, Marie Turner. I had taken three classes she taught, graded papers for her, and listened to her talk about teaching for a dozen years.

But I hadn’t developed a teacher’s mentality, since becoming an educator had not been my priority most of my life. I didn’t fully understand lesson planning, effective discipline or teaching others to write. I also was uncomfortable becoming an authority figure over students who were very close to my age.

I am eternally grateful to students who became the friends I needed in that early year, especially Jim Luckett, Brad Watson, Lucianne Forcum, Hal Freeman, Beth McCutchen, Kenneth Utley and Harris Dockins.

Over the years I was successful at coaching speech, directing plays, coaching tennis and becoming an effective sports information director while working with coaches Denny Doyle, Stumpy Baker, Jim Gladden, Wayne Shewmaker, Wayne Mullen, Mickey Meguiar, Larry Reeder, Buddy Linton, Floyd Burnsed and Ken Barrett, who were my teaching colleagues

In that first year, I built a speech team, directed two well-known full-length plays (The Diary of Anne Frank and The Man Who Came to Dinner), coached tennis, stood on the sidelines keeping statistics for Stumpy, and sat on the bench with Doyle keeping basketball stats.

I didn’t know for sure whether I could be a good teacher, though. In fact, through all my 14 years of high school teaching, I always felt I was better at leading extracurricular activities than teaching in the classroom.

It wasn’t until 1991 when I started teaching at Western that I gained confidence in my ability to make students learn successfully. I wasn’t coaching or directing anything, and I realized my students were not only learning how to construct and deliver speeches but also getting over their fear of speaking in front of an audience.

It was a good feeling.

In a separate article you can join me in a look at what was going on at Russellville High School 50 years ago during a time of great transition. Click on 


Copyright © The Logan Journal 2009 - 2024