From the 40 Acres to the Public School Classroom

by Harvey Mayton

Like many baby boomers, with retirement close at hand, I have been thinking back to the beginning of my career which starts in the Government Department at The University of Texas at Austin. As a typical college- bound high school student in the 1960s, I was only interested in where I would spend my four years of col- lege, not in the rest of my life. I was excited about being part of the UT experience. Fortunately for me, it was easier to be admitted then and I got my wish quickly. It proved to be a great place for me. I became involved in the Longhorn Band, loved being in the midst of the 60’s cultural phenomena in Austin, and, after a while chose government as my major field of study. This is where my future really began.

I thrived in the liberal arts and humanities environment. I learned to think critically, reason logically, question almost everything in both my life and our country’s past and future, and broaden my horizons to an incredible extent. Fortunately for me, the intellectual and conceptual connections I made, under the guidance of outstanding and influential professors, are still with me today.

With a high quality liberal arts education came many advantages. Unfortunately, there was one draw- back: job marketability. But, with every problem there is a solution. For me, that came in the form of gradu- ate school admission and a teaching assistantship in government. This not only gave me the opportunity to further my education and provided me with another two years in an environment I loved, but ultimately led me to my career in public education.

Little did I know at the time, but teaching freshmen government students on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 8:00 a.m. would become the best time of my week. Moving from the student’s side of the desk to the teacher’s was not easy or comfortable at first, but I surely grew with it. I gained experiences and insights that have served me in my public school career for 35 years.

As a teacher and administrator in public education, I am continually aware of the communication and relationship skills which I gained during my years of teaching freshmen government at UT that are a crucial part of my everyday school life. Prior to this time, I had given no thought to what was required to make an effective teacher; I assumed that it just happened magically. What I found, through trial and error, was that teaching is both a skill-based and relationship-based endeavor.

True learning, I think, is best seen in hindsight. It is fitting now that I relook at my early teaching years while in graduate school as the genesis of a long and very rewarding career in public education. It is more important now, however, that I look toward continuing to encourage and nurture our best students into such experiences and careers. As in evidence in the daily media, public education in Texas is at a crossroads for both funding and support from the citizenry. As a practitioner for 35 years, I can attest to the personal rewards and societal value of public education. Additionally, as a supporter of UT and the Government Department, I fervently hope we can not only keep this avenue attractive for our graduates, but also make it as rewarding a choice for them as it has been for me.

Harvey Mayton obtained bachelor’s and master’s degrees in government from The University of Texas at Austin (1969 and 1971). Since 1976, he has been a public school teacher and administrator in the Austin area.