Expect the unexpected, keep promises to students, and do your homework, Catawba Springs Elementary teacher James Herndon advises whoever succeeds him.
Herndon is grading his last exams, and submitting his final grades for his last batch of report cards, as he finishes his last school year. He is retiring after 35 years of teaching.
The Lincoln County native has been a fifth-grade teacher at Catawba Springs since it opened 26 years ago — over which he has learned a few tips he hopes to pass along to his replacement.
“They need to make sure they follow through with what he or she promises the students,” Herndon told the Times-News on Friday. “By being upfront, it lets the children know what to expect and where the teacher stands.”
Herndon has wanted to be a teacher since he was in sixth grade, and was inspired by one of his own teachers, who encouraged him to follow his dreams. He studied at N.C. A&T and UNC-Charlotte, from which he received his master’s degree in education.
Though the field has changed a bit since he started in 1977, Herndon loves teaching as much today as he did back then, he said.
Herndon has been recognized for excellence in previous years, such as his selection as the NAACP Teacher of the Year and 2011-2012 Teacher of the Year at Catawba Springs. His ability to connect with students and his experience in the field will make for hard shoes to fill, his co-workers agree.
School Principal Kristi Smith wrote a letter of recommendation for Herndon for the NAACP award. She has worked with him for seven years and describes Herndon as “always a gentleman,” traditional and an instructor who really cares for his students, even after they’ve left his classroom.
“Every year he takes a group picture of each of his classes, and hangs it on the wall in his classroom,” Smith said. “He has a picture of every student that he has taught since he has been at Catawba Springs.”
Smith recalls seeing various previous-students of Herndon’s who have come back to visit him and let him know how they’re doing. He was getting to the point in his career where he was starting to get children of former-students, so he enjoys that, too, Smith said.
Herndon’s students say nothing but positive things to Smith about their teacher and are sad to see him go.
Herndon will miss interacting with the students, but looks forward to his post-retirement life, filled with yard work and traveling, though he hasn’t decided where just yet.
His 35-year career will be celebrated May 31 at Lincolnton Middle, along with the other retiring school employees in the county, and a personal, Catawba Springs ceremony will be held June 11.
“James is a role model for everyone – parents, teachers and students; he helps bring out the best in every child,” Smith said.