Reflections on Retirement

Posted by Al Powell
What lessons does a teacher learn over the course of 46 years in the classroom? What memories stick in one's mind after such a lengthy career?

Rhetoric humanities teacher Al Powell will step away from his classroom on Caldwell's campus at the end of this school year. Before he does, he pauses to remember some highlights and to testify of God's great faithfulness to him, his family, and Caldwell Academy. 
The word “retirement” is only mentioned once in the Bible in Numbers 8:23-26 (NIV), in reference to the Levites’ service in the Tent of Meeting. The Lord tells Moses the Levites are to retire (the ESV uses the word “withdraw'') from service in the Tent of Meeting at the age of 50, after which they may assist their brothers in other ways. Nowhere does the Lord tell us to withdraw from all service or work. With this in mind, I look forward to the new direction the Lord has in my life. It is with awe and gratitude that I know that God has gone before me in every stage of my teaching career, and has written an amazing testament of faith and detailed planning. I am so grateful for the people who poured their love and wisdom into my life and enabled me to teach.

My mother loved books and made sure books were a part of my life as a child. She took me to the library one summer and signed me up for the summer reading program. The first book I read that summer, the first book I ever read, was about the Cub Scouts. I’ve been reading ever since. Every Christmas and birthday she gave me books as gifts. I didn’t always immediately read them, but she was patient with me. Whenever I got the urge to read, she made sure I had something to read.  I can remember many of the books I read in elementary school and in junior and senior high school. My parents firmly believed that education was a key to success and they were thrilled for me to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where I was saved, and UNC Greensboro. My first teaching job was at Page High School where I met David Willoughby.  I am very thankful both of us came to Caldwell. I knew Caldwell would be a place where I could blend my love of Christ, His Word, and classical literature. The puzzle pieces were fitting together at long last.

When Adam Greer asked me to work here, I did not realize how Caldwell would liberate me to freely express and integrate my love for Christ and His word and classical literature. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7) became a reality for me here.

During my first week at Caldwell, I met the dear colleagues who have made my time here so rewarding and enriching, including four giants in Caldwell history: Tom Feeney, Tony Storch, and George and Leslie Liebmann. Each gave me the gift of friendship and great memories.

Tom and I knew each other from our days at Page and Grimsley. Tom’s conversion story is amazing. If you have not heard it, ask him about it! He has been a good friend and encourager over the years. One year he gave me a chemistry-themed birthday party in the teachers’ lounge because, he told me, my name was on the periodic table: AL (aluminum).

Tony Storch was a great history and theology teacher with a terrific sense of humor. I enjoyed talking politics with him at lunch. He was also a powerful prayer warrior, and on many occasions, we prayed for each other’s families.

George Liebmann several times gave me the gift of Scripture including a framed picture of Luke 6:40, which reads, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone, when he is fully trained, will be like his teacher,” which reminded me of the powerful example a teacher is in his students’ lives.

One of my favorite memories occurred on the first day of school in 2005. Headmaster Mark Guthrie read from 2 Samuel 5:24: “And when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, then rouse yourself, for the Lord has gone out before you to strike down the army of the Philistines.” He stopped reading and the room, the lunchroom, fell silent. Then he asked us, “Can you hear it? Listen.” We heard the sound of children outside on the first day of school. Then he added, “Do you hear the sound of marching in the balsam trees? Rouse yourself, for the Lord has gone out before you.” Those words inspired me, knowing the Lord had already gone before us and would supply us with power and wisdom to teach the students waiting for us on the other side of the door.

Another special time was when my wife, Sandra, and I attended a Society for Classical Learning conference in Charleston, South Carolina. Caldwell has a history of being family-friendly. We enjoyed the lectures, the culture, the fellowship, and the city of Charleston. We could see Charleston harbor from our hotel window and knew the Lord was on the move with Caldwell Academy.

I want to thank all of the wonderful students I had the privilege to teach and learn with. Together we read the great books and discussed the great ideas. A true hallmark of Caldwell students is their impeccable manners. Whenever I see them in public they always speak to me. What a great reward for teaching!

Maybe the greatest reward is being a Caldwell grandparent. It is sheer joy to watch Will ’27 and Elijah ’31 grow spiritually, academically, and socially. We are very grateful for the guidance and love showed to them by their teachers in the Grammar and Dialectic schools.

I want to thank Sandra, whose sacrifices and support have helped me teach for the past 46 years.  I am also grateful for the support and encouragement of my family: Al, Leigh Ann, Nate, Will, Taylor, Will Jr., Elijah, and Riley.

The following words by Dostoevsky from his great novel, The Brothers Karamazov, best summarize my perspective and emotions as I leave Caldwell:
“And even if we are occupied by most important things, if we attain to honor, or fall into great misfortune - still let us remember how good it once was here, when we were all together, united by a good and kind feeling which made us… better perhaps than we are.”

Thank you, Caldwell Academy! Soli Deo Gloria!