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Michael Humphrey doesn’t like to use the word retirement to explain why he’s leaving the teaching profession after 49 years.
“I’m not retiring, I’m moving on,” the Louisiana High School speech and English teacher said last week. “I look to the future.”
Humphrey is literally moving on to a home now being built in the Houston, Texas area so he can be closer to his family. There are no regrets for the teacher beloved by many students since he started teaching here in 2003.
“If I had one, it would be leaving Louisiana,” Humphrey said. “It’s a wonderful community and there are wonderful families here.”
Humphrey grew up in LaGrange, Mo. and was in school in the 1950s when segregation was still the norm.
When integration occurred, “We were told it would be nothing but trouble,” Humphrey said.
However, a black arts teacher came to his school and “brought students together in a matter of a few days,” Humphrey said. “That was the first thing I remember that was significant about why education is important. There were two racial groups getting along together.”
Humphrey graduated in 1959, went to college and started teaching in Michigan before he graduated.
Right away he fell into his niche of being a speech and English teacher. He went to Helias High School in Jefferson City in the late 1960s and then on to Quincy, Ill, where he taught from 1968 to 2001.
In the summer of 1969, “I went to Woodstock and I remember it,” unlike many attendees he suspects do not. “It was quite an experience,” and helped pave the way for a lifelong love of art and music.
From Quincy, Humphrey moved on to Culver-Stockton College for a short time. He then took his only professional sabbatical from teaching, a technical writing job with the Honda corporation. It would be invaluable.
“I learned a lot about writing that year, which I think I brought to the students,” Humphrey said.
Technology and computers have their place in teaching students how to write, “but students still need individual instruction,” Humphrey said. “Where are the strong verbs, does it flow, what changes can be made to make it better? As of now, technology can’t do that.”
Teaching has been “self-fulfilling,” for Humphrey.
Seeing students develop new skill sets for writing and speaking never got old and justified his means.
To get students relaxed and motivated to learn, Humphrey said he often used humor to loosen a class up. This was particularly valuable in speech class.
“People would rather go to their own funeral than speak in public,” Humphrey said. “I tell them ‘I’ve never had a student die in the classroom.’ ”
As far as learning goes, students haven’t changed much in the last 49 years, Humphrey said.
But these days “they are under pressure to have part-time jobs,” to support their vehicles and the costs of them. “The students have put the pressure on themselves,” Humphrey said. “If you don’t have a car, you’re not cool.”
For Humphrey getting his students to excel came from “the environment you create. My mantra with my students was something I said every day at the end of class. ‘Read, read, read.’ ”
He also owes a lot of his career accomplishments to his wife of 44 years, J’Ann Humphrey.
“She’s good at evaluating ideas,” Humphrey said. “Married teachers are more effective because they can run assignments by their spouses. We talk about school every day.”