By Heather Mullinix
Cumberland County High School history and government teacher Craig Taylor is heading back to the classroom this summer, beginning a master's program of Ashland University.
"History and government are full of stories and decision making," Taylor said. "It's neat stuff, and it never ends."
Taylor will be getting some help with his studies from a fellowship from the James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation, which will pay for his studies towards the master's degree.
He is the only fellow from Tennessee among the 56 recipients selected from across the United States, District of Columbia, Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the nation's island and trust territories.
Teaching is a second career for Taylor, who retired after 30 years in the manufacturing field.
"I had nothing to do," he said. "I did not have a plan for retirement."
His wife was teaching chemistry and biology in Monterey at the time and he began substituting, mostly at her school but also in other areas.
"The more I did it, the more I liked it," Taylor said. "I started exploring going back to school."
He took a couple of classes and then had his credits evaluated by Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville, where he completed his degree.
He has been teaching for eight years, seven of which have been at CCHS. This past year, he taught U.S. government and U.S. and ancient history.
"I love this job," Taylor said. "You see the faces and the questions forming — that's what makes it fun."
Taylor said he keeps a positive attitude, and he believes his students respond to that.
"We're here to create an opportunity that involves curiosity and lack of fear for students," Taylor said. "They've got to feel comfortable asking questions and stepping out of their comfort zone. College is a different pasture, and they've got to feel good about themselves and comfortable asking those questions."
His first class in the master's program will be a one-week intensive course on Ralph Ellison, American author who wrote Invisible Man, which follows a man's search for his identity and place in society from the perspective of an unnamed black man in 1930s New York City.
Following that, he will take a two-week online course, American Founding.
Taylor hopes to be able to put his new knowledge to use in his classroom right away.
"We start with the background of our government and there's a lot of interpretation of what the Founding Fathers meant," Taylor said. "Of course, none of us were there. I'm hoping to be able to go through some of the documents and be able to say this is where we came from and let's talk about the process."
For the Ellison class, Taylor said, "I think it will be interesting. And it works its way into other conversations about race relations and equality."
Taylor has applied for the fellowship program twice before, and almost didn't apply this year after being named an alternate last year. But he ran into Carl Owens, professor of history at TTU, who said he had received a letter from the foundation stating Taylor had been encouraged to apply again this year and asked if Owens would again recommend him for the honor.
"I decided to do it," Taylor said.
He completed all of the application materials and sent it off. One day while at home, there was a knock at the door, but he missed the delivery man who had left a note stating there was a package to be delivered. He and his wife stopped by the Cookeville location for the delivery service, not knowing what it was they were picking up.
"I thought my wife had ordered something," Taylor said.
When they brought the box out, he saw it said James Madison Foundation, and he hugged it close and hurried to show his wife.
Inside were forms and paperwork he needed to complete as a fellow of the program.
"It was one of the most exciting moments of my life," Taylor said.
Taylor hopes to complete his master's degree in two-and-a-half years, taking online courses during the school year and intensive courses during the summer months. He will also be required to complete a capstone project.
As part of the fellowship, he must commit to teaching at least one year for each year of fellowship support following completion of the program.