A ticket to retirement
CHRISITANSBURG — The end of the school year marks the completion of many high school careers after four years of hard work.
This month at Christiansburg High School, however, the most prominent career coming to a close will be one that has been more than four decades in the making.
Christiansburg High social studies teacher William Calloway spent his final day with students Friday after more than 40 years of service in the Montgomery County Public School System.
While his career choice was sparked by his love of history, his love of interacting with his students has fueled his 43 years of dedicated service.
Calloway is a self-proclaimed “born and raised” Christiansburg native and 1965 graduate of the Christiansburg Institute. He attended Bluefield State College in West Virginia where he became a member of both the Alpha Pi Alpha fraternity. He later went on to join the Sigma Pi Phi fraternity in Roanoke.
The 66-year-old admitted upon entering college, he had no idea what he wanted to do, but after one semester, he realized his love of the storytelling aspect of history and decided to declare a social studies major.
Calloway said he had no intention of returning to his hometown after graduating in 1969, but the market for history teachers at the time declared otherwise.
“During that time history teachers were a dime a dozen,” he said. “Everybody was a history major, and once you got that position, you didn’t give it up.”
Calloway eventually applied for an opening at Auburn High School. He was deemed a good fit for the position by the Montgomery County superintendent at the time, Raynard Hale, but because this was during the Vietnam conflict and Calloway had already taken his armed forces physical, Hale had to convince the draft board of Auburn’s need of a male teacher.
Hale’s plea was a success, and that fall, Calloway became the second African-American teacher at Auburn High School, replacing his own former Christiansburg Institute instructor, Ladonia Carr, at the predominantly white school.
Despite the racial divide, Calloway said his mentality in heading off potential problems was simple.
“I had a mindset that I was in charge of the class, and I had to keep that mindset no matter what the atmosphere was about the blacks and the white,” he said.
As Calloway was quick to become respected as a classroom teacher, he was just as quick to become revered for his ability to connect with students and colleagues alike.
Montgomery County Director of Secondary Education Nelson Simpkins, who began teaching alongside Calloway at Auburn in 1974, said a person could sense his colleague’s positive nature immediately.
“From the first time you see William, from his dress to his charisma, to his genuine caring for people, you’re just attracted to him,” Nelson said.
“He was more than a teacher, he was a friend to everyone…If you’ve ever been a friend of William’s, you’ll always be a friend of William’s.”
Calloway not only started his career in the classroom at Auburn, he also began a practice he would become well-known for throughout the surrounding communities – taking tickets.
During his 43-year career, Calloway missed only one season of manning the gates at sporting events – the season he coached Auburn’s eighth-grade boys basketball team. He’s won awards from the Virginia Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association and the Virginia High School League for his efforts.
Collecting tickets used to be a requirement for teachers, Calloway said, but he soon realized the value of being present at such events.
“I found that was the best way to get to know the students and meet the parents,” he said.
“The students see you out there..they see you in a different context. They see you out there supporting them, and so, when they come to the classroom, they’re not going to give you any grief.”
After 18 years of teaching and ticket taking at Auburn, Calloway decided it was time for a change and requested a transfer to Christiansburg High School in the summer of 1988.
At his new school, Calloway soon began another tradition he would become known for within the community. Calloway and fellow history teacher Donna Rush worked to form the county’s first and only Veteran’s Day parade. Parade events, which include a post-parade reception for the veterans and their families at Christiansburg, continue to grow each year, Calloway said.
Calloway’s reputation as a solid educator continued at Christiansburg High, both in and out of the classroom.
Although Andrew Bradshaw, 2013 CHS senior class president, never took a class taught by Calloway, the teacher found a way to impact his education.
From passing conversations, Bradshaw said Calloway realized the student’s passion for politics and made him take an online test on political polices to test his knowledge.
That was an example of a relationship Bradshaw said he’s seen Calloway develop with students, regardless of if he had them in class or not.
Daily interactions with students are what Calloway said he enjoys most about the job and what makes him a magnet for former students.
Calloway said his former students always mention how much they miss how he made them read the newspaper each morning and/or how much they enjoyed the field trips he took them on.
He felt it was important for his students to stay up-to-date on current events. It was often a struggle, at first, to get students reading, but once they started, they really begin to look forward to it each morning, he said.
Calloway recalled taking students to many places, including Paris, Germany, Switzerland, Cancun, and the Bahamas, often giving students their first opportunity to travel away from home. He’s also led several trips to the presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C., and to Richmond to assist with the student-led Model General Assembly program.
Calloway said the trips left a lasting impact on the students.
“They had to enjoy it, such a learning experience,” Calloway said.
It was such a trip to the Model General Assembly, that Calloway’s former student and current Christiansburg Town Councilman Cord Hall said gave him his first positive experience with public service.
Hall said Calloway’s overall presence as an educator left a great impression on the 1996 CHS graduate.
“I think he exemplifies everything that’s good in public education,” Hall said.
“Good instruction, general care and compassion for his students. He cares about them much beyond the classroom.”
Though Calloway’s connection with his students has lead to a library of good memories, it is that same connection which he said has led to the worst aspect of his career.
“Reading you’re students obituaries in the paper,” Calloway said “I’ve been to so many funerals.”
Calloway said he knows the time is right to retire, however, it’s been more challenging than expected.
“I’m ready, [but] I didn’t think it was going to be this hard,” Calloway said.
But there are a few things that aren’t going to be so hard to give up, he said, including waking up at 6 a.m. and answering the same questions from students repeatedly, such as “What time does the bell ring? or “Did I miss anything yesterday?” Calloway’s usual response to the latter question:
“No. We were just sitting around wishing you were here,” he said.
But it’s also the daily interactions which Calloway said he will miss the most and which he said he will have to ween himself off of.
Calloway will still work the ticket booth at Christiansburg’s athletic events.
It was position Christiansburg Athletic Director Kirk Litton said he wasn’t letting Calloway walk away from just yet.
“I told him he can retire from teaching, but he can’t retire from taking tickets until I retire and then we’ll go out together,” Litton said.
Other than holding on to his position taking tickets, Calloway said he didn’t have any firm plans yet for his retirement.
The Roanoke Times | 381-1643