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Column: Like losing two splendid libraries
Tom Poland.jpg
Tom Poland

(This is the first part of a special column by Tom Poland. The second part will appear in an upcoming edition of the C-I.)

June 6, D-Day, is coming for two professors at the South Carolina Governor’s School for Science and Math (SCGSSM). June 6 represents “Departure Day” for two professors who are retiring. SCGSSM, viewed from afar, is imposing, a fortress of learning. Within it, two teachers have long inspired learning -- Dr. Carlanna Hendrick, history professor, and Dr. Clyde Smith, physics professor. After teaching at the SCGSSM a cumulative 61 years, they’re closing the classroom door. It’s like two great libraries closing.

Hendrick’s Road to Hartsville

Dr. Carlanna Hendrick had been at Francis Marion for almost 18 years when the late Dr. Doug Smith, Francis Marion president emeritus and founding president of SCGSSM, asked her if she would look at what they were going to do at the SCGSSM. “I came and it sounded exciting. The children here were the same age as my children and I thought, ‘Well, I like my kids. We get along. Quite possibly I can get along.”

She joined the staff and found teaching younger students exhilarating. All these years later, Dr. Hendrick is an institution within an institution. As long as there’s been a SCGSSM, she’s taught there, devoting 31 years to teaching history. She went to college thinking she might major in Math or English but fell in love with history. “I had an excellent teacher. The research required in doing papers made me even more interested, and I had the freedom to do what I wanted to do. That was it.”

At one time she swore she would never teach. “I went to college and by taking two extra classes I could get certified in Georgia. ‘Well, that’s a good fallback,’ I thought, but to my surprise I loved taking something I am passionate about, history, and sharing it with others.” On further reflection, she decided to pursue graduate work. “I taught only in college until I came here. “It’s going to be with regret that I leave the school, but for a while I don’t want to do anything but rest, read books, and vegetate until I focus on the next stage of life.” She will return next spring to teach a Medieval elective. “The juniors I’m teaching this year asked that I teach it for them. It will be wonderful, a reunion.

She plans to do nothing for a while, but admits the real reason she’s retiring is to make time for reading. I have a large collection of books I bought because I was fascinated and couldn’t wait to read them, but I have not had time.”

Dealing with Change

Dr. Hendrick is a native of Bristol, Virginia. The Virginia-Tennessee line runs through the middle of town. “It was so much fun because one year Tennessee had daylight savings time and Virginia didn’t. Outside the city limits, it was an hour’s difference. I had a dear friend who lived in Tennessee. She and her fiancé had a Tennessee marriage license. On the way to the reception they realized they weren’t legally married because they were married in Virginia. The preacher had to ride in the limousine and remarry them.”

From this two-state town where taxes and time varied, she went on to attend school in three states, Georgia’s Agnes Scott, the University of Tennessee, and the University of South Carolina. Now, having taught at SCGSSM since its inception, Dr. Hendrick has witnessed a lot of change. “When the school opened, we had no Wi-Fi. We had a computer lab with clunky little brown computers. There was one wall phone on each hall of the residence. Technology has changed everything, and it has made an enormous difference academically.”

Teaching in the early days, Dr. Hendrick said she could reference an event and all the kids would respond. “Now, I have to stop and explain because some know it and others don’t. Some have delved into particular topics far more than I have and know things I don’t. They are extraordinarily knowledgeable but very, very limited in connectivity and understanding.”

She finds, too, that today’s students come from schools where they have not been particularly challenged, where they made easy grades. “They come here with that same expectation and they’ve been, in my view, somewhat pampered. ‘What do you mean I have to do that? What do you mean this is not correct?’ That is something I did not see in the earlier classes.”

Today, personal technology invades the classroom. “They all bring their telephones if they want to and I don’t care because with ten kids in the class I can see what they’re doing. It’s useful. Occasionally someone will ask a question I can’t answer, and I’ll say, ‘Look it up,’ and they pick up their phone, but only at my direction.”

Consider Dr. Hendrick a traditionalist. It took her years to get a chalkboard. “I wanted a chalkboard and I got one. I use the Smartboard particularly for art and music where you really can’t use words as effectively as, ‘Look, there is the picture.’ I’m delighted to have the Smartboard, but I’m still writing on a chalkboard. I’m still lecturing. I’m still saying you’ve got to read that book in terms of the conveying of information.”

A student asked Dr. Hendrick if she even had a computer at home. “Well certainly, how else could I keep up with my Twitter account?” Her students decided she needed a Facebook account. “Facebook is the only way I can keep up with my grandchildren because nobody sends grandma snapshots anymore. All the pictures they send are through email, Facebook, or my phone.”

Dr. Hendrick adds that History’s being required doesn’t always generate a ton of enthusiasm. “In a school for math and science, the expectation is ‘Oh Lord I’ve got to take History.’ No one is in my class because they want to be there. They have to be there. It’s a state requirement and their expectations are often minimal. Some of the happiest things I see on evaluations are that they found History was fun.” Some of her students have gone on to teach history, proof of the passion she’s long shared.

Dr. Hendrick didn’t spend all her time in the classroom. She coached co-ed tennis for 15 years, and they were district champion teams most of the time.

For years, the 45-minute drive from her home in Florence to Hartsville took Dr. Hendrick through beautiful countryside. She enjoyed it and says she has become an agrarian. She reels off sights and recollections. “Oh, they’ve got corn over there this year and last year they had cotton. I know where the water doesn’t dry up if there is a heavy rain. I have watched a number of houses built over time. A lot of my friends said, ‘Don’t you just get so tired of the drive?’ I say ‘No.’ That’s the one time people leave me alone. I put a book-on-tape in and it’s a very pleasant part of my day.”

She’ll miss the drive, but that’s 90 minutes roundtrip she can devote to reading that tall stack of books. Even better, she can spend more time with her two granddaughters who will soon begin their college years.

Dr. Hendrick’s final thought? “I want to make it abundantly clear that my life has been enriched by teaching at the Governor’s School. My life, my career, and my perspective would have been vastly different had I been in a college setting where I started. I might have chosen retirement earlier.”