Tag Archives: public education

Reflections on 30 years in public education

A one-room Amish private school in eastern Holmes Co., OH.

It’s been 20 years since I retired as a public school educator in Holmes County, Ohio. I began teaching fourth grade at Killbuck Elementary School only weeks after the historic and devastating July 4th flood of 1969.

It’s fair to say that neither Killbuck nor I have been the same since. I can’t speak for the town, but for me, that’s a good thing.

I have many fond memories of my time in both West Holmes and East Holmes Local School Districts. I was hired just 10 days before school started. A significant teacher shortage had hit rural areas then. West Holmes still needed 10 more teachers before school started.

I had the two most important requirements needed to teach back then. I had a college degree and a heartbeat. The only education course I was certified to teach was driver education.

I was assigned to a tiny third-floor room in the old high school part of the school complex. I had 28 fourth graders packed into that small space.

I can still name every one of those 28 students. That’s the kind of lasting impression that experience made on me.

A retirement gift from the staff.

Students in the other eight years that I taught at Killbuck were equally enjoyable. I especially appreciated the support of the parents, as well as the camaraderie of the school staff members.

To keep teaching each year, I had to complete at least two college education courses. That meant many night classes and summer school for this teacher. It didn’t take me long to realize that this was what I wanted to do for a living. I loved children, and despite some of the silly state and local requirements, I enjoyed teaching.

I liked it so much in fact that I got my Master of Education degree and became an elementary principal in East Holmes. I also worked out of the central office coordinating the expanding federal programs. But it was the kids I enjoyed the most, plus the opportunity to help teachers teach.

I served as principal of Mt. Hope and Winesburg Elementary Schools for 21 years. I also supervised Wise Elementary for three years at the same time. To complete the triangle of visiting each school each day required driving 21 miles.

For me, the best day of each school year was the first. The students were always excited, scared, and ready to learn. Once they settled into the new routines that soon changed.

I marvel at those precious years, those shinny tiled hallways that bustled with the cheerful sounds of children laughing and learning and quietly chatting. I recall trying to chase teachers out of the buildings long after the school day had ended. Sometimes teachers were still there in the evenings grading papers, displaying student work, or planning for future lessons.

I recall marvelous, heartwarming stories involving children, their parents, teachers, and administrators. There were darker times, too, but far and away, the better memories rule.

It is hard to believe that two decades have evaporated since I retired from the profession I loved with all my heart. I know I wasn’t perfect in executing my responsibilities. I simply tried my best to be an educational leader for the community that I served. After all, the schools belonged to the community, not me.

I can say without hesitation that the 30 years that I spent in the hallowed halls of public instruction in Holmes County were some of the best of my life. But for me, now and forever, school is dismissed.

My last class as an elementary teacher.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Living where you work

home, Amish country

Our home for 37 years.


By Bruce Stambaugh

I’ve always liked living where I worked. For all of our adult lives, my wife and I have resided in the communities where we plied our skills as public school educators.

We did so intentionally, knowing there were distinct advantages. Experiencing the everyday life of those with whom we taught and guided served as a blessing far beyond anything we could have imagined.

To walk where our students and fellow school staff members walked gave us insight into the core values and principles that drove their lives. We wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Amish buggy

Along the way.

After we had married in March 1971, Neva and I lived in Killbuck, Ohio where I taught at the elementary school for nine years. I got to see my students first-hand before, during, and after school. I found great reward in knowing their lifestyles, family circumstances, and living situations.

A year after I became a principal in the East Holmes Local School District, we moved to our present home built on an Amish farm. That was 37 years ago. What a joy it has been.

Families invited us into their homes for meals, hymn sings, weddings, and just to visit. We participated in the life circles of the mostly Amish and Mennonite communities. That enabled us to understand and appreciate their ways and values more fully.

When you live in the same location for nearly four decades, incredible benefits find you. Just the other day I visited with a former student from one of the many respectful families we got to know and interact with over the years.

Our conversation in his office thrilled me. Here was a young man who grew up with Amish linage, earned his graduate degree at an Ivy League school no less, and now is serving his home community in multiple leadership roles.

Over the years we have joyfully watched such students mature, finish eighth grade or high school or college, and all contribute in meaningful ways to our culture and society. It’s especially momentous when we encounter one another on life’s journey.

Amish farmstead

A typical Amish farmstead.

I regularly see many former students. They cash my checks at the bank. They serve me my dinner at a local restaurant. They build and sell me furniture that lasts a lifetime. Even my attorney is a former student of mine. The list is endless.

Others I only see or correspond with occasionally, even randomly. There’s no greater joy for a teacher than when a former student recognizes you in the aisle of a large grocery story and rushes up and unabashedly embraces you with a long, loving hug.

Then there are the times when I bump into the orneriest student ever, and he nearly shakes your hand right off of your arm in recognition that he made it. It’s like winning the lottery, only much, much better. After all, the kid knew the way to the principal’s office blindfolded. Now he has a dream job and a lovely wife.

The memories the students share in these encounters make me smile. I usually have no recollection of the incident or how positively it had impacted them. And yet, whatever was done or said then helped them in their young lives. Being told that warms my old heart.

East or West, I am so glad to have lived where I worked. My life wouldn’t be nearly as full without these precious relationships. All I can say is thank you to those of you who have filled my cup to overflowing.

I am grateful to have known you then and now.

dogwood in bloom

Fond memories bloom eternal.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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August’s end means new beginnings

walk to school, Amish boys

Back to school. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

A Belted Kingfisher flew furiously over the fresh mown hay towards a neighbor’s pond. Breakfast was likely on its mind.

My farmer neighbor hitched his workhorses and teddered the hay to help it dry. The Barn Swallows, Tree Swallows, and Cliff Swallows circled the productive locomotion and devoured every insect the man, the machine and his faithful team dispersed.

A refreshing north wind eased the day’s early humidity. No need for a calendar. All signs pointed to August’s end.

A few trees had already begun to transition from their chlorophyll green to their disguised shades. Even before the berries on the dogwoods blushed bright red, the trees’ leaves curled and revealed hints of crimson and lavender.

blooming hydrangea

The hydrangea. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

My energetic wife had already deadheaded the once lovely hosta blooms that adorned the leafy plants in her luscious flower gardens. The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, hummingbird moths, and various butterflies, bees, and other pollinating insects had completed their instinctive work.

The hydrangea bush bloomed full and pure against the garden shed. It demanded daily watering in August’s heat and dryness.

Juvenile birds, Red-headed Woodpeckers, Song Sparrows and Blue Jays among them, found the feeders and the birdbaths on their own. Another aviary generation will forge into fall and winter without knowing what lies ahead as if any of us do.

American Goldfinch on sunflower

Eating fresh. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

The acrobatics of the American Goldfinches provided free entertainment as they worked over the volunteer sunflowers that sprouted from bird feeder droppings. Fresh food is not just a human preference.

The big yellow school buses began carting anxious and enthusiastic children alike to and from school. I waved to the drivers as they passed me on my walk.

People often ask me if I miss those days; if I don’t have some innate longing to return to my first career. The short answer is, “No, I don’t.”

I loved the children, whether teaching or being their principal. I greatly enjoyed the interactions of parents and staff members, even when we disagreed. I have no resentments or regrets. Neither do I have any wish to reenlist.

oat shocks

Straw soldiers. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

My life has moved on. I am the same person, just at a different place in my turn at life’s cycle. I have fond, fond memories of my teaching days and principal days. But now I have neither the desire nor energy to compete in today’s educational whirlwind too often driven by politics instead of common sense.

I would rather sit on my back porch, as I am now, taking in the world as each moment flashes by. I don’t want to miss anything. I want to rise each day to enjoy the sunrise and bid farewell to the evening light that dims all too soon.

fluffing hay, teddering hay

Teddering the hay. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Each day is an opportunity to live, to be alive, to help others, to listen, to look, to breath, to pray silently, to work diligently for peace in a troubled world. That is my challenge now.

August has come and gone, always too fast, always too hot and dry. August melds into September.

We can only embrace it, for there are marvelous days ahead. I’ll watch for them whether from my back porch or wherever I might be, knowing that too many in the world will not have the pastoral view or luxuriousness of trusting neighbors that like mine.

It’s my duty to share goodness and joy with others as my life, too, passes from August into September. Isn’t that the real responsibility of all of us at any age?

August, sunset, Holmes Co. OH

August sunset. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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