No End to Learning

When I graduated from Frostburg State College (now University), I was probably naive enough to think, “Good. No more going to school. No more classes. No more homework.” Thank goodness I wasn’t naive enough to think, “No more learning.” I recognized that learning would be a lifelong process. I just couldn’t anticipate how long my life would be or how much I’d have to learn between then and now.

Several months later I found myself in the classroom again, teaching tenth grade English; the next year they moved me down to ninth grade. Aware that the direction of my career depended on getting a Masters of Education, I spent parts of two summers taking two classes each year. My word! Why did I sign up for “20th Century Russian History”? Even though the Soviet Union was still intact at that time, the course was the kind of challenge I’ve rarely encountered since.

When I quit teaching at the end of December 1974 to take a State job, I was elated. No more spending my free time planning and correcting papers. And no need to finish that Masters program.

The State job involved a lot of paperwork, but virtually no classroom training. Okay!

My parents–amazing how perceptive they can be as we grow older–recognized that I wasn’t overly thrilled with what I was doing, and for some reason thought I might really enjoy computer programming. So they offered to pay for me to hop up the road an evening or two a week to Chesapeake College.

Even though I was back in school as a learner, my parents’ insight had been dead right. I LOVED programming and ended up with a 4.0 average on the 24 credits I took there, completing two certificate courses simultaneously.

No need to go into the problem of “how does one find work without experience and how does one get experience without working.” My good grades barely counted in the real world–except for showing my potential. I almost wished I was back in the classroom.

I started working as a computer programmer in September of 1984. Although I had to attend an occasional class, most of the learning I didn’t do on my own came from attending (and later teaching) sessions at a semi-annual computer users symposium called DECUS.. I’d made so much progress in my learning that I was also invited to teach a day-long class at Australia DECUS in Melbourne.


Nothing seems to stay the same for long in life. As mainframe computing surrendered to networked personal computers, I was no longer the expert I’d once become. So I dug into web programming, but without the degree of success I’d experienced before.

And then in 2002 I was asked to join a different team. For a very important new piece of software we were to begin using, I attended a week of formal classes along with the rest of the team, but–probably for the first time in my life–my ability to learn what I needed to learn fell short of expectations. I didn’t catch on, and I did miserably at the job. So much so that my being downsized a year later was actually a relief.

What I’d learned more than anything else during that year was information technology was changing faster than I could keep up. I knew my career in that field was doomed. I ended up on the register at Target for three years until I was old enough to retire. Definitely no formal education needed for that job.

I wrote my first novel during those three years and discovered that I needed to begin the learning process all over again. 21st century novels weren’t like their predecessors, and graduating from college with an English major wasn’t the background I needed to write better.

So, for the past eight or ten years I’ve attended at least one writing conference yearly. Invaluable learning experiences. I’ve subscribed to and pored through Writers Digest, and I’ve amassed over a hundred books about writing.

Learning never ends.

One thing I’ve become especially conscious of is the fact that authors must always strive to do better with each successive book. That may not always involve learning some new writing technique–I’m not sure there is such a thing–but in relearning and applying things that may not have seemed relevant earlier.

And so I strive to make each book I write the best one yet.

What part has learning played in your life? How about leaving a comment?


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I’ll be back again on Wednesday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,

Looking Back: Mr. Matney

I participate in an online program called the Daily Challenge. It presents something for its members to do of a health-promoting nature–often physical, but sometimes mental and emotional. Participants receive points and work their way up the ladder to higher and higher rungs. I can’t say that I always find DC to be beneficial, but I’ve made friends with some of the people who exchange comments with me.

Today’s Challenge–I’m writing this three days before you see it–was special. To share one’s favorite class or school subject from way back whenever and list three reasons it was so special.

At first I was stymied, as I often am by that type of Daily Challenge, but once I thought about it, I had to mention two classes rather than one.

I thoroughly enjoyed my Government class in high school; I guess they call that Civics now. My teacher was a wiry little fellow named Keith Matney. (It seems strange that I would have even known his first name.) That man was energetic, and that was good. He could keep me awake even while other kids were dozing. I’ll never forget an impromptu speech he gave about the fact that nobody is free unless everyone is.

I don’t recall the details, but that made me want to become a teacher. A teacher of Government at that.

When I transferred from junior college to senior college, still firm in my conviction that I wanted to follow in Mr. Matney’s footsteps, I took a class called The American Political Party System. We were required to attend a particular political rally–1966 was an election year–and that was my initial introduction to the realities of American politics.

Forget teaching Government. Especially if it meant taking more classes like that one. I’d been naive enough to think that majoring in Political Science was all about the kinds of things I’d studied in Mr. Matney’s class.

Nonetheless, I didn’t lose my desire to teach. Since I’d accumulated more English credits than anything else in junior college, I changed my major to English.

Once I started teaching, I learned that the one thing my education classes had failed to to teach me was how to teach. I’m greatly relieved to hear periodically from former students on Facebook who remember my classes as beneficial.

But I was no Keith Matney, and I changed careers shortly after the beginning of my seventh year.

I have to admit I never totally lost my interest in teaching, though. I taught a computer programming class once at a Black and Decker plant in Easton, MD. I taught guitar off and on part-time for a number of years. I did a little bit of Sunday School teaching. I gave technical presentations at nationwide computer user conferences and even taught a full-day class once in Australia.

Even now I’m tutoring/mentoring a writer friend on a regular basis.

Maybe I do have at least a little of Keith Matney in me after all.

What about you? What was your favorite subject in school? How about leaving a comment?


I’ll be back again on Wednesday with a post about my other favorite high school teacher. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

“On Aging Gracelessly” is only one of my two blogs. I post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years on  “As I Come Singing.” Check it out HERE if you’re interested.  Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. View the list HERE.

If you enjoy my writing, you’ll find a number of things to read on my website.  Also music to listen to and music-related videos to watch.

My newest novel, The Devil and Pastor Gus, is out now. If you’re interested, please check it out at Amazon.
Best regards,