Departing teachers reflect on what they learned

Roger Flinchum and Laurel VanHorn take to the lectern one last time as RCHS teachers. Photo by Melissa Delcour.

Rappahannock County High School said goodbye June 15 to a pair of educators with a combined 65 years in teaching.
Roger Flinchum’s 42 years at RCHS really began with a change of heart back in . . . well, it was a while ago. After he entered Virginia Tech’s engineering school, “I discovered what I really enjoyed was my time in history and social studies classes. So I changed my major to English with a double minor in history and sociology.” He was quickly licensed in those subjects and has taught all three. He retired as a history teacher.

Flinchum revealed his pride in the education profession when he said, “Those who can’t — teach. Those who can — well, they enter less important careers.” He added, “In other jobs, maybe you’re making a profit, but in teaching, you have a chance to change the life of a person.”

After more than four decades of plying his trade, Flinchum had some less-than-radical ideas about how to better the system. “I am still torn about the SOLs. They give a firm background to curriculum, but they also present tremendous limits to what can be taught. Educators need more freedom. Often teachers have to deny students’ interests in topics because of the time crunch surrounding the SOLs. For example, I can only afford about 20 to 30 minutes discussing the Holocaust. The SOL cramps the ability of teacher to individualize learning.”

One of the things he is really proud of actually came toward the end of his career. “I designed the College and Careers class where we learned a variety of practical things: investing, designing a home, tying a tie, studying nutrition, presenting ourselves in an interview. I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback from kids about that class. It may disappear as soon as I leave; I hope not. I’ve enjoyed teaching that class and writing that curriculum more than just about anything I’ve done.”

A mere 24 hours before his last day at RCHS, Flinchum sat in a classroom and reflected on his departure. “Today, I’m down to one cardboard box of things and my briefcase. Today . . . I’ll take the box. Tomorrow . . . I’ll carry the briefcase. It probably won’t hit me until August when everyone else goes back to work.”

Flinchum’s fellow retiree, Laurel VanHorn, is leaving her English teaching position after 23 years. “I am looking forward to a new phase in my life and to getting to enjoy my husband — spending more time together. We, of course, have many plans! On the other hand, leaving my life at RCHS, my colleagues and the students, has been emotional for me. I am wondering where the time has flown and am surprised that my time for retirement has actually arrived.”

VanHorn’s experience at RCHS has certainly been varied. “I have taught AP English, senior English, eighth grade, and the other levels, too. I have worked with students to create the yearbook and the newspaper; I taught my beloved Shakespeare elective. I really don’t know of any other school system where I could have so expanded my career to include all these teaching experiences. I am truly and deeply grateful.”

In addition to educating Rappahannock’s youth, VanHorn and Flinchum share the joy of seeing their children benefit from the local school. “What has truly meant the most to my husband Dee and I, is that our son, Andrew, a 1998 graduate of RCHS, was able to attend school here,” VanHorn said. “He had a wonderful experience. He was able to pursue interests in sports, music, and drama that he might not have been able to fully explore anywhere else. This is also where many of his life-long friends remain or return.”

Just hours before her final day as a RCHS teacher, VanHorn reflected: “I will miss my colleagues very much. I will miss the students without question. I look back and think about all the students I have taught. Robert Glasker was in my first senior class and Jackie Settle Tederick in my second. I have taught my colleagues’ children. How fortunate I feel looking back on my RCHS life. I am and will always remain profoundly grateful to the community that is Rappahannock.”

Other teachers who are leaving RCHS at the end of the school year are Dave Gillis, math, and Donald O’Meara, special education. Gillis, who also coached cross country, soccer and wrestling, will be leaving Rapp after eight years. O’Meara, girls’ basketball and men’s baseball coach, departed after one year in the county.  

With his trademark wit, Gillis offered two of his favorite quotes: “Time wounds all heels” and “When it it’s all said and done, there is more said than done.” Gillis will take his teaching and coaching skills to Randolph Macon Academy in the fall.

“Goodbye is never easy,” O’Meara said. “I enjoyed every minute working with the basketball and baseball teams. Those young people taught me probably more than I taught them. I will also miss the faculty. It was like I had worked here for years. Rappahannock is a great place academically, and it’s because the teachers here are as passionate for the kids as any place I have been. I have a two-year-old daughter at home and a newborn son. Choices in life are hard . . . but I want to make sure I have the time to enjoy my family — they grow up so fast. I am blessed with another job to be able to work from home, so my plan is to do just that. I would like to thank everyone and wish Rappahannock the best of luck in the future. Go Panthers!”