‘Driven by hope’
Retired Loyalsock teacher passes on the love to read
A little over 30 years ago, Joseph Smith III decided to leave a job working in publishing in New York City for a future in education.
“I was working in publishing in New York City and I was basically a glorified proofreader. It was a good job but there was no personal interaction. I thought, I can’t do this for the rest of my life,” Smith said. “I just asked myself, is there something else I seem to be gifted at. I seem to have good people skills and I’ve always loved to read.”
Smith said that he put those two things together and decided that teaching would be a good fit.
“My whole teaching career was driven by hope that I could get maybe one in ten of the kids that I work with to love reading as much as I do,” Smith shared.
Smith admitted that it wasn’t until he got into college that he began to take learning more seriously.
“In high school I was kind of a lazy bum and I got by just on the fact that I’m pretty smart,” he said. “I got pretty good grades but I never worked really hard and I never enjoyed learning.”
His journey eventually led to teaching English at the Loyalsock Township School District until he retired last year. Although he was primarily an English teacher, there were some electives, such as writing classes and a communications workshop that he taught. And then there also was speech and drama.
“About 10 years ago, the person teaching speech and drama was no longer able to teach it,” he said. “I have very little training in drama but I took the class over and we really had a good time.”
In the course, Smith divided the lessons up and taught “half on speaking and half on performing and acting” and then at the end of the year the students would put on a play.
During his tenure at Loyalsock, Smith also ran a science fiction club.
“I’m a huge ‘Star Trek’ fan and for years I was dragging my poor wife off to see ‘Star Trek’ movies. Meanwhile I’m talking to these guys in class about Jean-Luc Picard and everything. Finally I’m like half these guys want to go see the movies and here I am dragging my wife,” he said with a laugh.
He asked the students if they wanted to start a club with the idea that they would go to see these movies together. The response was affirmative and at one time there were 70 or 80 people in the club.
After many years of teaching, Smith has seen many changes in the profession, particularly in technology.
“I started teaching in 1988 when at that time I considered myself lucky to have access to a copy machine,” he said. “Consider the tech that has taken over the classroom since then. I went from overhead projectors and chalkboard to eventually PowerPoint. Now any video I want I can find on YouTube.”
The invasion of technology into the classroom contributed to Smith’s decision to retire.
“One of the things that contributed to my retirement was that I couldn’t compete with the technology. Not only did every child have an iPad, but they had a cell phone,” Smith said. “The other thing that really broke my heart was you have a culture that just doesn’t read anymore.”
Smith shared that although his initial hope on entering the profession was that he could pass on his love of reading to his students, but by the end of his career, the culture had changed. When he started teaching in New Jersey, Smith would read stories to his students as a break from the routine. By the end of his teaching career, students were not as receptive.
“By the end of my career, I couldn’t do that anymore, even if I gave them the story so that they could follow along with it. They’re bored, they’re shutting down, they’re on their phone. It wasn’t fun to read in class anymore,” he added.
Smith admitted that he feels that students today really aren’t that much different than in past years. What he has seen, though, is what he terms a division between the haves and the have-nots. Those students who are go-getters and strive to get top grades on everything. Then, there are the students who have fewer skills, fewer interests and more family problems outside of school.
Although he has retired, Smith is anything but idle and has set some major goals for his retirement.
He teaches once a week at a homeschool co-op and is busy writing. The author of three books is working on another, this time about “under the radar” movies.
“I would like to write four or five books and read a thousand in the next ten years,” he said. “I set a goal of reading 10 books a year. I’ve got several more books I’d like to write — ideas floating around out there.”