Smith reflects on end of career
by Jon Roma
After 37 years of teaching, Dean Elbert Smith will retire at the end of the school year. Mr. Smith plans to farm and travel, and, in an interview with Southwords, reflected on his years of teaching.
Mr. Smith began teaching in the schools at Carmi, Carterville, and Red Bud, all in Southern Illinois. He began teaching math and P.E. and he also coached.
In 1958, Mr. Smith came to Maine East, beginning twenty years work in District 207.
With the opening of Maine South, Mr. Smith came here, continuing to teach math. "I originally coached football and track, and some years I coached basketball, too. In 1967, I became dean," he recalled.
After his retirement, Mr. Smith plans to buy a farm in Southern Illinois. "I guess I'll become a 'gentleman farmer.' I like to garden .. I was born on a farm. I guess you could say it's in my blood--like teaching. In fact, I almost became an agriculture teacher."
Mr. Smith feels that his years of teaching and coaching were his most rewarding years. "One of the things about teaching is that you have a rapport with your students. There's just something special about teaching, but it's hard to describe. I guess you would have to experience it yourself to know what it's like."
It's this feeling that made the decision to retire difficult. "I've thought about it for a long time. It was a hard decision to make, but after a long consideration, I have finally made the decision. It's really hard to leave something that you've been attached to for so long.
"However, I don't want to hang on too long. I think that when a person reaches retirement age, he should retire. A person should step aside and let someone else take his place. It's better to quit while you're ahead, rather than to hang on so long that you are no longer of any value to others.
"In fact, this is a good time for me to retire. Because of declining enrollment, some teachers might have to be let go. It's better that I leave now, and let someone else take my place."
Mr. Smith continued, stating that he was thankful to have been able to be a part of this school. "I'm really proud of Maine South. I have talked to a number of former students, and they tell me that Maine South was the best school that they went to. This school has been very good to me. I hope that I have been good to it.
"The cordial and courteous atmosphere makes this school special."
Maine South's high standing, according to Mr. Smith, is caused by everyone--the faculty, the students, and the community.
He continued, "Students don't know how good they have it here. Many schools, especially in the inner city, kick everyone out and lock the doors at 3:30. But here, there's always something going on after school and on the weekends."
Mr. Smith commented that he would love to see our teams go downstate. "If we could just 'break the ice,' I think we'd be going down to the championships on a regular basis."
Expressing his feelings about students, Mr. Smith stated that students are always in a state of change. "The major thing that worries me is the use of drugs by students here. This, of course, is not only a problem here but exists nationwide," Mr. Smith reminded.
Another of Mr. Smith's opinion is that students should get back to work. "School is not a place to be entertained, but it is a place to work. There are a lot of times students can have fun--in P.E. classes, after school, and on weekends. But when they are in school, they should be prepared to work. There is a time and a place for everything."
Besides the drug problem, Mr. Smith cites vandalism and stealing as other problems to be solved.
"However, there are many good points about Maine South. We have many good programs and the students conduct themselves excellently. I went to a number of sockhops and there was not one single problem!
"But even with problems, we still have an excellent school. If we can end the drug problem, we will have a great future."
Mr. Smith sums up by stating that the hardest thing about his job as dean is keeping his cool. "There's so much pressure on me in this job. Many problems siphon down to me, and I have to make the decisions. Another hard thing is that it is a full-time job--you can't get away from it, even at home.
"It was difficult making the transition from being popular as a teacher to being a dean, where you are treated so negatively. I guess you could say I went from riches to rags.
"But I'm not complaining. There are a lot of rewarding things about being dean. This job is so versatile--there's never a dull moment. No two days are ever alike.
"But the best thing about being dean is that, in dealing with students, I hope that I have reached them. Oh, I know that some will never turn away from their ways, but then, you can't win 'em all!"