Friday, November 11, 2011

The Military, a Boarding School, and Me

Imagine my surprise when I landed a teaching position in a co-ed military boarding school run by the Southern Baptists. I know…you’re thinking I must have been crazy. The fact was that in a university town, teachers were in abundance and the public schools wouldn’t even talk to me. Oh, they allowed me to fill out an application, but then placed it with others in a file cabinet burgeoning to the point of

I applied at the boarding school, too, not having a clue about the workings of such a place. I talked with the Vice President in charge of hiring, and after he told me the faculty roster had filled, I went home with no job.

We’d just moved to the Central Texas town where my husband had taken a professorship at the university. September rolled around, our children began school, and I had nothing to do. In previous years, I taught in a public school, and I felt lost with no students.

The next week, the Vice President of the military school called, saying they were in desperate need of a part-time science teacher. It seems a last-minute surge of students had enrolled. He asked, no, he practically begged me to take the job. School had begun and a secretary or somebody had been placed in the classroom until a teacher arrived. No one wanted to teach part-time, he said, plus…are you ready?
My students would be seventh and eighth graders.
Oh, no, I groaned to myself. Junior High kids! I’ll tell you, it takes a special teacher to enjoy this age-group, and I am not one of them. I liked the older kids, those whom an adult could actually talk to, and those who could take up for themselves, and did not require so much discipline.

But what could I do? He promised—sort of—that next year a full-time position for a biology teacher would open up and I’d be first in line. This clenched the deal, and I girded my loins for the year-long battle with 13-year-olds.

Just as the students in all grades had much to learn concerning the rules and regulations of living in dormitories run by military personnel, teachers had to learn how the entire system worked.
I first learned the meaning of “mandatory.” Wednesday morning chapel was mandatory for teachers, as well as, the student body. So was proper dress—faculty men had to wear belts with their pants, could not wear athletic shoes or jeans, and had to have a good haircut. If the boys must have their heads buzzed, at least the men could be presentable. Little was said to the females. I guess we already had enough sense to do the right thing.

Every event was mandatory, especially if the President and his wife threw a party…or reception. At least the students—male and female—learned how to dress up and mind their manners. The girls learned proper deportment and where to place her hand on her date’s arm. The dormitory personnel drilled the cadets on what to say and how to say it, how to walk with a female on his arm, and always to say yes, ma’am and no, ma’am. Oh, and they learned to open doors for ladies. Yep. That was so ingrained in them I don't think I opened a door all the years I taught there.

For receptions and holiday parties, the girls wore formals and white gloves. You heard me. The faculty also wore formal attire, and I was ready to start a revolution if white gloves for us would also be mandatory. Thankfully, we got away with that one.

Once a year, the entire corps prepared for inspection. Army personnel arrived from somewhere to conduct the three-day affair. This included every aspect of dormitory life, as well as military life. The school fell into a time-warp, where little happened while the inspection occurred. The cadets came to class carrying a polish cloth and a small can of Brasso. Instead of listening to me discuss photosynthesis, they discreetly polished their buckles to be ready on the spot. You never saw so many shined shoes, pressed and creased uniforms, and clean fingernails.

On the big day, the entire corps of four companies marched onto the football field and stood in formation for upwards to two hours. The faculty wandered out there and sat in the bleachers, watching a thorough inspection procedure that resembled something akin to paint drying.

Graduation at the school spanned three days. No, we didn’t have just a ceremony, we had parents’ breakfast, awards ceremony in the big chapel,  entertainment by the choir, Senior girls’ passing the torch (green ribbons) to Junior girls, the Rose and Sabre ceremony at the senior gates, opened only once during the year; then Baccalaureate, and finally on Monday morning, graduation. The girls wore long white dresses and carried a bouquet of red roses, held just so in their arms; the cadets wore dress blues. The faculty wore the caps and gowns—interesting, huh? The only reason I worked for a master’s degree was to wear a hood instead of a little white collar, signifying only a Bachelor’s degree. Graduation ceremonies were quite impressive.

Explaining my experiences during all those years is a difficult task. Young people arrived with all kinds of baggage, literally and figuratively, and most—I say “most” because there were always those who could not obey at all--graduated with heads held high, transformed from non-performing students to grand successes. That’s what we did best—change attitudes. Loyalty to the school runs deep and powerful among the graduates as well as the faculty.

The best thing that happened to me when I left the school was to have the honor of “trooping the lines” during the Pass-and-Review on graduation weekend. An Army jeep was provided, and I stood in the back holding on to a horizontal bar, while the entire Corps stood at attention and saluted me. Oh, wow. What can I say? Those kids were great. 
Successes? Oh, yes, in one form or another, and almost everyone did just fine.

I hope you’ve enjoyed a brief glimpse of my teaching career. I wouldn’t take anything for those years. Often, I look around and yearn for some young man to say, “Here, ma’am, let me get that door for you.”
Celia Yeary-Romance...and a little bit 'o Texas


  1. 50-something years ago, a boyhood friend got into some minor trouble and was given the option of attending Schreiner. He ended up doing very well there, but didn't adjust immediately.
    At the first public ceremony after he arrived, his father looked out over the formation and said "Oh God, Randy."
    There in the center of the formation was one kid (my pal) wearing an Allen Academy helmet!

  2. How funny! Our students were very international. Now...fewer boarding school student--it's the economy!--but more and more day students from town and surrounding smaller towns. Someone has money, because it is expensive! Thanks for the story--I remember Allen Academy.

  3. Celia, you MUST write this story as fiction. It would make marvelous reading and I'll buy the first book! Of course, you can take poetic license with the plot!
    Please, please take my advice on this one! Your biggest fan, Linda

  4. Thank you--oh, I've thought about it. So have several other teachers. I'm afraid whatever I put in the book, some would recognize it. Still, I toy with the idea....

  5. Your experience of teaching in a military school is a quite memorable one. I saw images in my head thinking that you were my teacher in one of those classes. Who knows, maybe you could write a possible award-winning book out of this experience of yours?