Friday, Jun. 15, 2012
Jim Arkfeld: Privileged to have taught local youth
On July 4, 1939, the famous baseball player, Lou Gehrig, was suffering from a fatal disease which would later be named after him. He stood in front of thousands of fans at Yankee Stadium and courageously proclaimed that he was "the luckiest man on the face of the earth". He was very thankful for the life that he was living.
Perhaps I am the second luckiest man on the face of the earth. Now that I am reaching the end of a very satisfying career in teaching, there is so much for me to be thankful for.
Foremost is the fact that I have been very fortunate to live the American dream. During my life, I moved up the proverbial ladder to reach the solid middle class. I grabbed the brass ring.
Life began for me in the Midwest where I was raised in a poor family. The minor calamities of an abusive father and divorce were factors in my early life but didn't define me.
Inspiration around me began to shape and influence my life. My grandmother was the first strong and lasting influence in my life. Uncles and aunts were living the kind of life that I began to admire and hoped to emulate. They had good marriages, children, and productive jobs. They became role models for me.
I began a journey which proved that America is truly the land of opportunity. With hard work and determination, there was no doubt that I could succeed. I never lost sight of that promise.
My wish as a young teenager was a new baseball glove. Baseball was my passion. Birthday and Christmas gifts in my family were always practical items, mainly clothing. There were no toys, games, or other frivolous items as gifts. Santa couldn't afford them.
Gradually I began to feel that I had some control over my life. I could make choices. I discovered that if I delivered newspapers, I could earn money and eventually buy that baseball glove.
While in junior high school I made it my life's goal to become a teacher. Then after high school graduation, and perhaps with a little bit of naiveté, I went off to college even though I had no money. By taking out student loans and working part-time and summer jobs, I managed to graduate from college, the first in my family. Opportunity had knocked and I answered.
My world continued to grow after college. My college sweetheart became my wife and life's partner. I taught school for two years and then entered the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam war.
After returning to civilian life, my wife and I decided to realize a goal of teaching in overseas American schools and traveling as well. Thus began a series of adventures while teaching in Bolivia, Peru, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the Marshall Islands.
We were able to travel in a number of countries during this exciting chapter in our lives, visiting ethereal places, such as Machu Picchu, the Acropolis, the Parthenon, the Colosseum, and the Taj Mahal. In Bolivia we lived through a coup d'état and an arrest for suspicion of spying. We experienced an earthquake in Guatemala, and lived under marshal law in Peru.
Following our wanderlust, I have spent the last 25 years teaching in Los Banos, where we finished raising our two children. In my opinion, the noblest ventures that humans undertake are those of parents, health care providers, and teachers.
Teaching has allowed me to work with the young people of America and feel that I am positively affecting the future. It seems that a little bit of the work of all teachers lives on in perpetuity through their students. We teachers help shape lives. We indeed touch the future.
Occasionally a former student has appeared somewhere out in the community, often many years later, and told me I made a difference in their lives. It thoroughly warms my heart.
Now as I enter the autumn of my career, I look back with the greatest sense of satisfaction. It was my privilege to work with the youth of Los Banos while imparting knowledge, awakening curiosity, shaping creativity, and developing thinking skills. If I touched lives in only some small measure, I succeeded. If some of those thousands of young people that I had the honor of teaching benefitted from my efforts, then it was all worth it. My noble profession has allowed me to make a difference in this world.
Jim Arkfeld is a teacher at Los Banos Junior High School.