Retiring Clinton teacher helps struggling students

By Tammy Keith Published April 15, 2012 at 2:27 a.m.
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— It took some soul searching, but Bob Parent realized about 20 years ago that teaching was the perfect career for him, and he gets teary-eyed when he talks about retiring.

So, why is he doing it?

“I’m old,” said Parent, 66, laughing.

He realized that he had a knack for helping the proverbial light bulb go off over students’ heads, and he said that’s satisfying.

Because he’s a rare breed of teacher with certifications in several content areas, he was placed in the Alternative Learning Environment classroom at Clinton High School, where he teaches any course having to do with math, science or social studies.

The Colorado native had his own aha moment when a business associate of his father’s asked him a question: “She said, ‘Suppose you won the lottery and had all the money you needed, and after you have a little fling and buy some things, what would you do the rest of your life to keep from being bored?’” Parent remembered.

She told him to write down all the jobs he’d had, what he liked and didn’t like, and meet her in a week.

Parent, who was good at math and science, said he spent his whole high school career planning to be a metallurgical engineer, sitting in a room figuring strengths of girders to build bridges.

He attended the Colorado School of Mines on a scholarship, but then he realized something.

“I hated the idea of just working with numbers,” he said.

He transferred to Western State College of Colorado and got a degree in social studies, eventually.

“I knew, when I got to Western State College, the only thing I didn’t want to do was teach,” he said. “I took anything that looked interesting.”

He owned and managed a restaurant for seven years, and he also worked in life insurance, where he was a national sales leader. He worked for seven years at a grocery store in Phoenix, Ariz.

When he thought about the question his father’s friend posed, he realized that training young people was what he liked about every job - teaching.

Parent had a sister who lived in Arkansas, so he moved to the state, and to qualify to teach in Arkansas, he took courses at what was then North Arkansas Community College in Harrison.

The teacher was called away to a family emergency, and the man suggested that Parent teach the class for two weeks.

“I could do everything but give myself the test,” he said. “They paid me $16.50 an hour to teach the course I was taking. I thought that was cute.”

He attended Arkansas Tech University in Russellville to finish his hours and worked at Tyson Foods in Dardanelle, which was hard work but “paid really well,” he said.

The Scotland School District hired Parent in 1992 to teach history and science. The classes were small, and he was able to give one-on-one attention, which fueled his love of teaching, he said.

Retired teacher Ina Cassell worked with him in Scotland.

“I was just so impressed that he could see the good in all the students, even when no one else might have,” she said.

The Scotland and Alread school districts were annexed by Clinton a few years ago, and Parent took over the alternative classroom, which is for students who have trouble learning in traditional classrooms, “for whatever reason,” Parent said.

“I wasn’t real happy, initially, because I loved my work in the classroom,” he said. “But as it turns out, I’m able to work with lots of kids on a one-on one basis and help them figure out how smart they are.”

He said he teaches 17 subjects to 50 kids in the Alternative Learning Environment, and he spends four or five hours each weekend charting their progress.

“I cannot be effective if I do not spend that time,” he said.

Parent said he works with students to determine how they process information because everyone does that differently.

“All of a sudden, things that have been bothering them for years - the math is suddenly clear,” he said.

One of those students is Charlie Clute, 17, a senior at Clinton High School.

“He helped me enjoy math,” Charlie said. “I’d say he’s an excellent teacher. Even a lot of my friends in class - all we have to do is ask for help once, and he’ll be there just as soon as he can. He just teaches in a way we can understand it better.”

Parent said one of his former Scotland students was in special education, and her heart was set on college, but others told her “she wasn’t smart enough to handle it.”

“I advised her to go for it,” he said. Parent spent hours sitting with her, helping her understand tough subjects.

“She graduated from Tech - with honors,” Parent said.

“Now, I didn’t do that - she did it. I just helped her a little bit to believe she could.”

Parent said he started driving a school bus during his second year in the Scotland School District to see where his students came from.

“It was an eye-opener, whew,” he said.

“When you see a family of four kids come out of a tin shed in the morning, and they are so excited to go - they get food at school - you would expect them to be dirty and disheveled, but they were clean every day. They had no running water. You can put wet clothes on a line in freezing weather, and they’ll dry.

… I learned that. They were always clean, always polite.”

Parent agreed to drive a bus until a permanent driver could be found.

“That was 18 years ago;

they’re still looking,” he said.

Parents’ students showed their devotion to him in 2010 after a tornado tore through Scotland, killing his neighbor and destroying his home except for the one part of the kitchen where he and his fiancee, Kathy, were standing.

“She was amazed, and I was astounded, also,” he said. “In the days following the tornado, there must have been 100 students, no exaggeration, who showed up and wanted to know how they could help. The support was overwhelming.”

After his home was destroyed, he rented a home in nearby Cleveland because he knew retirement was coming.

He’s moving to Texas when school is out.

“It’s not my first choice to move to Texas, but that’s where Kathy’s sister lives, and Kathy is my first choice,” he said.

Superintendent James McGaha said Parent “has a rapport with the kids. He’s their buddy; he’s their teacher. His compassion and concern for the children are true dedication. He gives it 100 percent plus.”

McGaha said the Clinton School District could advertise for someone with Parent’s qualifications, but “those people are not out there anymore.

“He’s going to be hard to replace. In fact, he’s not going to be able to be replaced.”

McGaha said more than one teacher will have to be brought in to do the job Parent did alone.

Parent said he leaves with “no regrets.”

“For 20 years, I was doing other things. Without that experience, working with people in various fields and getting results in diverse fields, I couldn’t have done this,” he said.

“I love every one of these kids out here. They can do anything anybody else can.”

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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