Narration & Sound
307 West Fredericks Street
Anderson, South Carolina 29625
Last August, Jane saw a newspaper advertisement requesting substitute teachers for a local school district. Always thinking, Jane decided this was a job for her semi-retired husband.
With no air shows, Jane is always concerned that I do not have enough to keep me busy during the winter months. She does not consider household duties sufficient to keep me from getting bored even though I have earned my Vacuuming, Dish Washing, and Laundry Merit Badges and still working on Dusting and Bed Making.
I have even learned to bathe the cat with a minimum of blood (mine) and fur (his). No, she thought I would enjoy teaching rebellious hormonal teenagers at Pendleton High School. With some misgivings (after all I do have military experience) I volunteered for the assignment.
With that military experience (teaching electronics and navigation), I knew that the best way to learn a subject was to teach it and that has certainly been true over the past months. Biology, Physics, Science and Math, while not my forte, have been fun. I even did several days of Oracle programming instruction (Sean D. Tucker would be proud). And you should have seen this overweight old man coaching a PE class. Bottom line: I enjoy it and I have learned a lot.
I was surprised to learn that high school kids today are not that much different than we were back in the ‘60’s. There a lot of similarities in dress and attitudes; in fact I could pick out the same kids today that I went to school with some 40+ years ago.
The most surprising thing was that these kids, with MTV, video games, MySpace.com and faux sophistication, are still fascinated with aviation.
During one of my first assignments, I was subbing in a Physical Science class; the subject: Momentum, good old Newtonian Physics. As most of you remember, a substitute teacher is another word for "party" and this class was no exception. In the process of delivering the lesson plan I was maintaining class room control by shear force of will when I drew an airplane on the board. The atmosphere in the class room changed instantly as I used the aircraft as an example of the subject matter. What a moment ago was an unruly batch of freshmen became an interested group of students: "maybe this dumb old substitute does know something after all."
I have since used the aviation card to full advantage, even to the point of keeping a collection of air show videos on my lap top ready quiet a group of rebellious heathens at the push of a mouse.
In another incident I was the substitute "Warden" of ISS (In School Suspension). The group of "inmates" ranged from those who could not stop talking in class to some real hard cases. Three of these students already had Probation Officers, one kid, with a slight sneer, told me he was first arrested at 12 for stealing a car. In ISS each student sits in a carrel, a small low walled three sided cubical, there is no talking, no privileges, even bathroom and lunch breaks are tightly controlled. Mess up here and you’re off to Juvenile Hall (reform school) down state.
On a lark, I printed several pages from the SC Aviation Hall of Fame website I had under construction. I deliberately picked bio’s of men and women who had backgrounds similar to my charges, rural, southern, poor.
Dropping a stack of papers of the desk of one of the hard cases, I watched out of the corner of my eye as this young man flipped through a page or two and then started reading in earnest. Finishing, he surreptitiously passed the pages to the next carrel. He then raised his hand, thereby requesting permission to speak, and when acknowledged asked, "Mr. Oldham, do you have any more of those stories, that was interesting."
So, I went to Pendleton High School to teach and I learned an important lesson: "aviation still has the power to inspire and motivate young people."
I remember a story told to me by Bobby Bishop of "Coors Silver Bullet" BD-5 jet fame. Bobby told me of an Air Force fighter pilot had insisted Bobby to come over to his F-15 on static display at an air show. When Bobby got to the F-15, the pilot pulled from his helmet bag an old "hero card" Bobby had signed for a young boy at an event many years before. This Air Force Academy graduate and F-15 pilot then thanked Bobby for the picture and explained how Bobby had motivated him to become a pilot.
Those of us on the "air side" of the crowd line tend to forget the power of our words and actions on those across the rope. We think of ourselves as average people privileged to do extra ordinary things, but to those people across the rope, especially the youngsters, we are "sky gods" and by reaching out to the "lesser mortals" we have the power to motivate and inspire.
An awesome responsibility.