The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

Local News

June 13, 2014

42 years teaching and still going

Thursday, June 12, 2014 — North Stanly High School mathematics teacher Jane Whitley is like the Energizer Bunny. She keeps teaching and teaching and teaching.  

Most educators retire after 30 years of service, but not Whitley. She is completing her 42nd year of service and has no intention of retiring anytime soon.  

For more than four decades, the Stanfield native has taught math and computer classes at North Stanly High School.  

“I landed there and stuck,” Whitley joked.  

“I’ve worked for at least eight principals. I’m the oldest one and I’ve been there the longest. I’ve taught practically every class in math North Stanly has offered.”

A graduate of Appalachian State University where she earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Whitley has observed numerous changes during her professional career. Technology has been a contributing factor.

“All of sudden, computers seemed to just burst on the scene,” she said.

Whitley has taught courses in data processing and computer programming. She has written much of the curriculum for data processing at North Stanly and  has written test questions for North Carolina mathematics final exams. The state level curriculum has changed directions so the data processing courses are no longer taught at the high school level.  She misses the challenge of those courses.

The first computers that she used were Tandy TRS-80s.  They were a Radio Shack brand with 16K memory.  

“I kept the road hot going to Radio Shack in Charlotte for repairs,” she said.

When those computers were discarded, the school received IBM PCs and Dell computers.  

“Now there are computers, Chromebooks and Internet everywhere.”

In addition to computers, Whitley has witnessed many other transitions in the educational field.  When she began teaching in the early 1970s, she depended on chalk and a chalkboard for classroom instruction.

“When we got colored chalk, that was really high tech,” she said.

The educator recalled when classrooms changed over to white dry erase boards.

“The principal would only let us have one marker at a time,” she said.

Now several of her high school classrooms have smart boards.  Whitley has her own set of high tech gadgets, including an active slate and document camera.

“I don’t know what we did without those,” she said.

Providing worksheets for students has also undergone change.  Whitley referred to the school’s old duplicating machine as the “purple monster.”  Now she relies on a copier for mass production.

The Albemarle resident, wife and mother noted instructional stability.

“Math doesn’t change as much,” she admitted, but she has seen more integration of algebra into the geometry curriculum.

“I don’t think students have changed in general. You had good kids then, you have good kids now.  You had problem kids then, you have problem kids now.”

During her first year teaching, the educator related that one student set fire to his desk and threw it out the window.

Though math hasn’t changed, her method of instruction has transformed. Initially, the big push in math was individualized modules. She averaged 35 students per classroom.  Each class member had their own programmable instruction booklet.

“I went to a lot of meetings,” she said.

“We were told that for the individualized materials to work well, you should have no more than 15 students and an assistant. It didn’t work with 35 students and no assistant so that didn’t last long.”

Education has made improvements over the last few decades.

“We’ve come a long way providing accommodations for different styles of learners.” Whitley said.  

“That’s a good thing. Not everybody learns the same.”

The veteran teacher has seen other improvements. She is thankful for air conditioning.  She and her students used to stay cool with only electric fans and open windows.

“People from central office would walk around with a thermometer to see if we were too hot,” she said.

“If it was too warm, we were sent home. We got some shorter days because of that.”

Whitley has witnessed a metamorphous in school transportation. School bus drivers were once high school students, now only adults man the wheels. The majority of students now drive themselves to class.

“We used to have a tiny student parking lot and a big bus lot,” she said.

“Now we have a tiny bus lot and a big student lot.”

The student population has undergone change as well.

“We are a more diverse school than we used to be,” Whitley said.

When she first started her career, the majority of her students came from rural areas and their families farmed. Those students are now in the minority. She also recalled racial tension in her early years. She found discrimination hard to deal with and is grateful for the peace that she now feels.

She remembered the school having bomb threats.

“Those kinds of things don’t frighten me,” she said.

“I’ve never been afraid of my students.”

Whitley has seen her school prepare students for disaster. First, she led them through fire drills, then tornado drills. In recent years, they have practiced lockdown drills in case of violence on campus.

Referencing brutality in today’s society, the mathematician made an analogy.

“The more we see it (violence), the more it becomes OK,” she said.

“It’s like graffiti. The first word is the hardest, and then the rest becomes easier.”

Students have more choices now.

“We offer more sports, more than just basketball and football,” Whitley said.

“I like track and cross country. Do your best and you get to participate.”

Whitley has seen the school system offer more and more activities for her students.

“I do think that we have fewer clubs and organizations, there’s just not enough time (for the students to participate in everything),” she said.

Whitley has sponsored the National Honor Society and the junior varsity cheerleaders at North Stanly High School. She is a longtime member of NCAE and the N. C. Conference of Teachers of Mathematics. She also serves as choir director at her church.

A high point in her career was when she represented her school, county and region as the Governor’s Technology Teacher of the Year.

“I liked technology and the award came through the work that I did,” she said.

Whitley has taught thousands of students. In the beginning, she used to teach five classes of 30 students per class daily. Now class size is much smaller. She has taught students whose parents she also taught.  

“I’ve taught many students that are now school employees,” she said.

“That’s a real pleasure.”

When asked how long she intends on teaching, Whitley made the following assumption.

“I think I will know when it’s time.” she said.

“After 30 years, I thought I can retire when I want to, but I’m still doing it. I still have a good time. I like the kids. I like the people that I work with. I like math. I enjoy every day.”

Sandy Hatley is a freelance contributor for The Stanly News & Press.


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