Joy Howell reflects on a career in education

STEUBENVILLE – Joy Smith entered the classroom at Stanton High School a little tired and overwhelmed.

It was her first teaching job since graduating the month before from Ohio State University and she was thinking about, “how do I keep the attention of the kids and how do I control the class.”

Forty-nine years later Joy (Smith) Howell recalled the respect the Stanton High School juniors and seniors showed her that day in April.

“I was 21 years old and probably just a couple years older than some of the seniors. I didn’t sleep too much the night before and was a little nervous when I walked into that classroom. Stanton High School was brand new. Everything was shiny and new and we also had new textbooks. I think students in those days were more focused on school activities than today. Student events were community events. We had a 600-seat auditorium and it was usually filled for every play, band concert or vocal performance. Students had more time for homework because there were fewer distractions,” Howell remembered.

“My focus in English was on writing because I believed if a student could write well they would be successful in college or a job,” Howell pointed out.

Howell is set to retire Wednesday as superintendent of the Jefferson County Educational Service Center completing a 49-year career in education that started when she was a student at Springfield High School.

“I really enjoyed my junior and senior English classes at Springfield. My senior English teacher encouraged me to go to college and major in English. But I went to Ohio State and initially majored in nursing. In that era young women looked primarily at teaching or nursing. It didn’t take me long to realize I wasn’t going to go into nursing, so I switched to a double major in English and history and political science. And I decided I would be a teacher,” recalled Howell.

“My mother was an avid reader and wrote poetry. She also read to us when we were children. I think that’s where I developed my love for English,” added Howell.

“I graduated in March 1964 from Ohio State following the winter quarter and came to the county offices to sign up for the substitute teacher list. C.P. Henderson, who was superintendent of Stanton High School, happened to be in the offices that day and he asked if I was interested in teaching English for the remainder of the year because the current teacher was going on maternity leave. I agreed to the substitute job, and when the teacher didn’t return that fall I had a permanent job,” said Howell.

“I taught English and reading for four years and then became the dean of women at Stanton High School. That cut back on my English classes. In 1976 I moved to assistant principal for one year and then principal for the next three years. I was director of curriculum for three years and was then hired by the county school board as a supervisor, where my mentor was Ron Minney. He was planning to retire and the board wanted his replacement ready to replace him. I worked as assistant superintendent for one year and became superintendent in 2007,” recited Howell.

“Education was definitely the right choice for me. Education opened a lot of doors for me and allowed me to meet a number of the most caring and competent people throughout the years. I really feel a career in education is not just a job. It is a calling and a real commitment because teachers give so much of themselves. Teachers go the extra step. At times it can be a frustrating job because external forces determine how we do things,” stated Howell.

“When I first started teaching, local educators had the freedom to decide how we would teach the way I wanted to teach. That changed in the 1980s when a competency based program became the standard. By the 1990s it was proficiency based testing. So teachers had to stop what they were doing and focus on a model curriculum developed at the state level. Then we changed from proficiency testing to the Ohio graduation testing. We moved from local developed programs to a specific program of test results. Now we have seen the development of the common core curriculum. During my 49 years I have seen the way we teach change every 10 years,” explained Howell.

“I admire the agility of teachers who are asked to shift their focus and adapt to the changes in education. I’m certainly not saying change isn’t good. But education has changed tremendously during the past 50 years. I still think education is a highly esteemed profession and teachers do make a difference,” said Howell.

“After I became superintendent of the Educational Service Center I received a phone call from a former student I had taught at Stanton High School who is now living in North Carolina. He called to tell me it took him a long time to follow my advice but he had finally graduated from college. He thanked me for urging him to attend college. That is one of those special rewards a teacher will receive,” noted Howell.

“I have been going through boxes of term papers I kept as samples from my days as an English teacher. And if I knew how to contact that former student I have sent them the papers they wrote so they could read them and share them with their families. It has been gratifying to hear back from those former students,” Howell said.

“After I have retired I hope I am remembered as someone who loved what she did … that I cared about my students. I was someone who also cared about the teachers and administrators I have met along the way. I hope I have made a difference for students and the staff members in the schools,” remarked Howell.

“I have always told the staff here at the ESC to continue learning. We should never stop learning and growing in whatever profession we choose,” said Howell.

“I have full confidence that George Ash will be very successful when he becomes the ESC superintendent. He comes from a school district (Harrison Hills City School District) that has worked closely with the ESC. He has sat at the table with other district superintendents who work with the ESC and he has their respect. George has a lot of energy and a lot of good ideas. And while he is younger, he has a wealth of knowledge and experience that will lead to the continued growth of the ESC,” observed Howell.

Starting Thursday Howell said she plans to spend time with her family at their home near Amsterdam.

“To sit back and have that second cup of coffee with my husband will be the greatest pleasure. I will be able to look out the window when it is snowing and not worry about making a decision about delaying or canceling school. And I will appreciate every day my husband and I have together,” said Howell.