I was the new guy. Though there were others in attendance, I was introduced to two memorable gentlemen on the first day. One, Ivan Obert, I would work with closely, as his classroom was located next door to mine back at the school. Observing Mr. Obert and teaching with him was a privilege I cherish. He headed out to teach at to the gifted center for a while before retiring from teaching advanced classes at South Middle School. We remain friends even several years after his departure from Cecil Floyd.
The other man was a fifth grade teacher at Cecil Floyd.
In my previous teaching job in Oklahoma City, I had not worked closely with any men except the principals. In 1995, that would change.
When Mr. Obert left fourth grade to teach in the gifted center, Dave Culbertson moved his things to the classroom next to mine from the fifth grade.
The rest is history.
I have worked with Mr. Culbertson for longer than any other human being. People must have thought we were quite the duo - two individuals, to this date, with very little in common.
Yet somehow it clicked. Two dedicated men, teaching fourth graders, constantly "retraining" new principals, assistant principals, and a plethora of teachers across the hall. Two grown men, born less than a year apart, who had a passion for the tasks at hand. We may not have changed the world, but I like to think we were stronger and more effective together than we ever would have been separately.
No one could have seen it coming.
We complemented each other. We finished each other's sentences. Other teachers don't think of us separately; we are Culbertson and Hoggatt. C & H, pure cane sugar!
In the last 25 years, Mr. Culbertson and I have experienced many things. Together.
We've shared dozens of bus rides to field trips. We've combined classes for countless hours. We've shared the stage for shows. We've decorated classrooms and hallways. We've planned special events. We've traded classrooms and students. We've coached Math League. We've taken concerns to administrators. We've met with superintendents. Together.
We received the Golden Apple Award from the chamber of commerce in back-to-back years. We have joked. We have laughed. We have plotted and schemed.
Mr. Culbertson and I have shared victories and tragedies, congratulating and supporting one another time and time again. I cannot tell you how many times his name has appeared in my prayers, and I know the action has been returned in his.
He was with me when I found out I was going to be a father (He knew before my wife did! Figure that one out.), and he was one of an exclusive and small club who kept that information secret until the birth (Only then, did our parents find out! Figure that one out, too.). I was with him in the hospital the night his beloved mother passed from life.
Mr. Culbertson and I have traveled together on several occasions - to Jefferson City, to Kansas City, to St. Louis, to Bentonville, Arkansas, and to Oklahoma City, sharing countless hours of deep conversation. We've been together in church buildings, houses, schools, museums, hospital rooms, and cemeteries. We've paid for one another's meals. We've exchanged Christmas presents.
At one time, I lived around the block from his parents, and he lived around the block from my inlaws.
Many have asked how each of us will fare when we are divided. Very soon, we're all going to find out as Dave Culbertson retires from the teaching profession. Things are about to change as the teacher who has spent more years at our school than any other individual (ever!) says goodbye to his classroom. Pretty soon, Room 402 will be occupied by the youngest new member of our faculty. And there will be no more pure cane sugar at the end of the fourth grade hall.
Yes, we're about to find out what life is like in our school without the one who has been here the longest. After a successful, award-winning, and passionate 30-year career in public education, Mr. Culbertson is leaving us, setting out for the golf course. I don't pretend to know what he is thinking right now. I do know, however, that he is leaving with many thoughts swirling through that bald head of his. You see, he is leaving under the most unusual circumstances - a pandemic that shut down school during his final year a quarter of the year before it was supposed to. Here is the year of no goodbyes to our students, Mr. C's final classroom family.
We're not going to hear his endless colloquialisms:
I'm taking you into the deep water.
They call it a hotdog.
We won't hear about his cousin, his brothers, his parents. We won't hear about James Best (Sheriff Rosco on The Dukes of Hazzard) or the Everly Brothers being part of his family. We won't hear him singing: I'm so excited / I just can't hide it / I'm about to lose control, and I think I like it. We won't hear as much REO Speedwagon when school starts back up. No more Joe Dirt mullet or mohawk winter hat.
He won't be there, cheering for the Chicago teams, telling about his Chicago childhood, or drooling over images of thought of Portillo's hotdogs. No more Bulls, Cubs, Bears, or Blackhawks.
David Culbertson is my acquaintance, my coworker, my peer, my professional partner, my right hand, my sounding board, my moving buddy, my prayer partner, my confidant, my friend, and my brother. He has made the greatest impact of my teaching career as I've become more like him, and he has become more like me. There is a reason we can read each other's minds. He knows when to draw me out when I'm not forthcoming with thoughts, opinions, and ideas, and I know when to tell him he's sharing too much.
Many people can say they have shared coffee, lesson planning, and worksheets; I am honored to say I have shared my life with Mr. C. We have built something to be proud of - a beautiful friendship that has endured the test of time and turmoil. The love between us is real.
While Mr. Culbertson - Dave - is leaving the business of the school, he will always be a part of who I am. He will always occupy a sizable place in my heart. It is with tremendous emotion and sorrow that I watch this man turn in his classroom key. The school bell is ringing. We can't help but wish the best for him as he leaves. I know he will visit, call, and text in the coming weeks, months, and years, but we'll definitely feel his absence in our school.
On to greener greens.