'The Snake Man': Loyd Always Made Learning an Adventure
Ken Loyd is stepping down after 33 years as Sandhills Farm Life School's "hands-on dude."
When he first went to work there, the principal, Dr. Jim Brock, had to sit him down and remind him that school was not summer camp. Loyd, who had spent four summers working at a camp in North Georgia while attending UNC-Chapel Hill, was always arranging singalongs, taking his class on nature walks, or using snakes as an educational experience.
But some of these off-the-wall teaching methods began to result in higher test scores, and it was hard for his superiors to argue with success.
"I've had supportive principals who've allowed me to innovate and do things outside the box," says Loyd. "Then they like it, so it sticks."
It stuck so well that Loyd remained at Farm Life for his entire career. He retired on Friday, June 13. As expressed at his retirement party, he will be sorely missed.
The guests at the party numbered close to 400. About 100 other friends and former students called or e-mailed to express regret that they could not make it. According to his older daughter, Jennifer Kirby, it was a "huge testament to his excellence as a teacher." His students have always delighted in their time in his class -- which is something he strives for, based on his personal relationship with education as a child.
Loyd did well in school, but disliked classes immensely.
"The school day seemed like it went on forever," he reflects. "Of course, we didn't have AC."
Loyd grew up in Atlanta, but he always knew that he was a "country boy" at heart.
Loyd's "country boy" side drew him to the camp in the North Georgia mountains. It was here that he became friends with camp staff member Don Moore, who encouraged him to teach younger children. Soon, Loyd changed his major to elementary education.
He fell in love with North Carolina while at Chapel Hill. And in his third year of college, he solidified the core values that he hoped to teach-- productivity, independence, and the ability to make good decisions. He has tried to instill these values into each student who passed through his class.
When he got an interview request from Dr. Jim Brock, principal at Sandhills Farm Life, he packed all his belongings into his car and headed for North Carolina, not even knowing if he had the job or not.
Luckily, he got the job right away.
"He was the first teacher I hired," says Dr. Brock, now also retired. "He was fresh out of college, and he was enthused."
He has taught third grade at Sandhills Farm Life ever since.
Loyd has never questioned his career choice as a teacher. It is what he loves doing, and it is his gift. Multiple times, when there were principal openings, the county asked him to apply for the position. He turned them down each time. According to him, they finally got the point and stopped asking.
With the help of his students, he built a nature trail at the school. He happily did snake shows whenever he got a chance.
"When kids think of me, they think of snakes and no homework," he says.
Loyd quickly became known as "the snake man" at Sandhills Farm Life. If there was a snake near the building, he got called to move it back into the woods. He rescued them and used them as a science lesson in class. He also taught his daughters not to be afraid of snakes.
"In the past few years, I'd been calling my room The Adventure Room," says Loyd.
Another favorite activity in The Adventure Room was the secret timetable event. The students were given a piece of cardboard with all their multiplication tables on it. Once they memorized the card and passed a test, they were allowed to go on a "secret outing." The excursion involved tramping to an allocated stump at the front of the school and ceremoniously burning the multiplication card.
"Burning something sounds so rebellious," he says. "The kids really remember it."
This ceremony illustrated that the multiplication card was a crutch that the successful student did not need.
Both of Loyd's daughters, Jennifer Kirby, 28, and Amanda Talbert, 25, got to participate in the many activities that took place in his classroom -- because they were allowed to take his class.
Parents are rarely given the opportunity to view their children in the classroom setting, and Loyd was very appreciative to have this experience, as were his daughters.
"When you think back on the class," says Kirby, "It feels like all you did was play."
Too Much Fun
While it may have seemed too fun-laden to be learning, when Loyd taught kids remembered. He especially had a talent for teaching history in a way that caught on. During class field trips, the students ended up telling the tour guide stories. He enforced history in all aspects of his curriculum.
"I think history gives students a sense for why they need education," he says.
Another memorable and historical part of Loyd's teaching was his "Classroom Declaration of Independence." When students met their nonscholastic personal goals, they could sign the Declaration in front of the class. This activity -- like many others that Loyd invented -- illustrated his ability to educate beyond textbooks and curriculum, strengthening the character and integrity of his students.
Hot Wheels cars were vital to Loyd's mathematics class. Students raced the cars and took measurements, which taught them the "real life" aspects of math and statistics.
Literature and its allegorical qualities entered the classroom as well. Loyd liked to use the whitewashing scene from "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," by Mark Twain, to show that work can be whatever you make it, and fun can be found anywhere. He also incorporated J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit," citing Gandolf the Wizard's speech about getting on the right path and not leaving it.
A Giving Attitude
"Dad is interactive with kids, and he really gets on their level," says Talbert. "He may talk with them like they are 9 years old, but he doesn't talk to them like they are dumb."
Loyd managed to do all the "fun stuff" in class without losing control. He never raised his voice.
"A sense of humor diffuses the classroom," he says.
Not only did Loyd teach, but he also coached girls' basketball, volleyball, and tennis as well. Also, he used to bike to school, eight miles in each direction. He passed his attitude of dedication and commitment on to his students.
"Teachers don't just work 8 to 3," says his wife, Judy Loyd.
Loyd's students also gain a taste of fandom. Both his daughters agree that you cannot make it through his class without becoming a UNC Tar Heel and an Atlanta Braves fan.
The majority of his classroom decorations that aren't team-oriented were found at yard sales, especially books. On library day, he always gave away paperbacks and magazines with one-dollar bills stuck in the pages.
"Material things are not at all important to him," says Talbert. "If he had something and someone needed it, he'd give it in a heartbeat."
Not only does Loyd give to his students, but he has also given, and continues to give to his family and community each day.
Family plays a large part in Loyd's life. His 94-year-old father and his 88-year-old mother are both his inspirations. According to Loyd, they taught him right from wrong, to have faith in God, and to serve others.
His teaching has created a local celebrity status for his family.
"Everywhere we go," says his wife, "someone asks, 'Are you Mr. Loyd's wife and daughters?'"
Also according to Judy Loyd, he is well-tempered, generous with his time, and a very good dad. Even though he played with kids at school all day, he was never too tired to play with his daughters when he got home. Being a teacher, he always found educational opportunities. He has a talent for making daily events into learning experiences.
The Loyd family never once visited Disney World. All family vacations were taken to museums, historical spots, or graveyards.
"But we aren't complaining," says Talbert.
Teaching Through Music
Loyd met his wife during his first year teaching at Sandhills Farm Life. A student invited him to a revival at the Baptist church, where he met Judy. They were married in one year, the "storybook old-fashioned" way.
His two daughters were born a few years later. They also have a strong sense of family.
"Both of us moved away, then we couldn't stand it," says Kirby. They now live close by in Pinehurst.
Because of his interest in history and family, Loyd wrote the book "Mystery at the Loyd Homeplace."
Along with his family, music takes great precedence in Loyd's life. He plays keyboard and guitar. Music also had a large presence in his classroom, where he organized singalongs and made song sheets.
According to him, he got the idea from his summer camp. The song sheets contained a variety of songs, from silly campfire songs to numbers by The Beatles and John Denver.
"There's nothing unique about the songs," he says, "but there's something about how they were put together."
The singalongs had a great effect. A former student contacted him a few years ago, asking for song sheets to give as Christmas presents.
Loyd plays his instruments as a volunteer at local nursing homes, hospitals, and The Italian Table restaurant.
Teaching Wise Decisions
Another one of Loyd's many talents is storytelling, a skill he adopted from his mother and grandmother. This, along with his music, is something he hopes to do during his retirement.
Loyd also hopes to start an education blog with his newfound free time. He isn't familiar with the blogosphere, and he shoots a look at his daughters when he mentions the Internet, hoping for some guidance.
He'd like his blog to include education articles and brainstorm ideas for teachers, as well as reinforcing his belief that history must be a part of education.
In the same manner that he managed to teach at home, Loyd could always bring smart play into the classroom. High school students never fail to mention "Mr. Loyd" and his Adventure Room to their teachers.
As for his success, Loyd gives one hint: "I teach that wise decisions will cover all aspects of life."
His focus on "character education" and personal growth truly makes an impression on the students.
"He's the person who inspires me to treat other people well," says Kirby.
"He does it at work and at home, in public and in private."
Adi Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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