I left the rural state of Maine in 1976. My baby boomer buddies and I had always been taught that we lived in a rural state. Fish, lobsters, lumber and paper, blueberries and potatoes were always named as the principal products. I had always enjoyed walking on the beach and in the woods. Heck, I had even climbed Mount Katahdin (sort of) when I was in college. I knew the meaning of “rural.” My move to Tennessee broadened my understanding of that word.

Shelley Goad in her natural habitat. As a young teacher who’d moved to Tennessee from Maine, she recognized the difference in location when the temperature in her classroom reached 90. Photo courtesy of Shelley Goad

My new home was on the Kentucky-Tennessee line, and my new teaching position was in a small K-6 school. When I walked into my classroom, I saw desks, chairs, a blackboard and two corkboards. A teacher desk and chair sat empty in the front of the room. There was no clock. (The retiring teacher had taken it with her.) There were no teaching supplies. My teaching position in southern Maine had provided all the basics, and teachers were given a small classroom budget. None of those extravagances was provided here. So, BIG Rural Lesson No. 1: How to set up a welcoming classroom out of my imagination and my pocketbook.

Another unique lesson No. 2 arose – literally – when a swarm of termites flew out of the walls during class time. (I didn’t know what they were.)

Lesson No. 3 came with the heat and humidity. Tennessee was definitely not Maine. My 90-plus-degree classroom (I had bought a thermometer) and curled and damp paper were testimony to the difference in location. Not much teaching happened on those days. I could hardly get out of my sticky wooden teacher chair.

But I loved those kids. They were fun, happy, polite (“yes ma’am”; “no ma’am”) and attentive. We learned from each other and enjoyed our time together. They asked lots of questions about where I came from. Several thought Maine was a foreign country. Why did I talk so funny and so fast? Did everybody talk that way in Maine? My fourth-graders fell out of their chairs when I asked them to “turn to page 44.” Those words showcased my accent in all its glory. I learned to slow my speech and pronounce my r’s so I could get some teaching done. Sometimes, at the end of the day, they would ask me to talk in “Maine” talk.

I listened and learned from them every day. I learned about canning vegetables from the garden, “settin’ tobacca,” “coon huntin’,” traditional family holidays and country cooking. They opened my eyes to another lifestyle that was another kind of rural.

I continued to teach in Tennessee for 33 years. I moved to other schools, but I always chose to teach in the schools in a rural setting. That’s where I felt the happiest. Conditions may not have been as easy as they were in the schools “below the Ridge” (city schools), but I knew I needed to stay with the rural kids. They taught me lessons I never knew I needed.

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