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A Columbus Teaching Career Comes To A Close

It's been nearly 40 years since the schools in Columbus were desegregated. It took a court order and some pioneering teachers to accomplish the task. Now one of those teachers,  a North Carolinian who came to Columbus in the early 1970s and stayed, is about to retire. Alice Munnerlyn had just graduated from a small North Carolina college when she was recruited by the Columbus public school system. Integration was coming and to prepare for it, the teaching staff was integrated first. "Columbus City Schools sent Mr. James Wade to the historically black colleges down South," Munnerlyn said. "In 1973 he came to Elizabeth City State University; that's where I graduated from. And Mr. Wade interviewed me and he said, 'If you make a 'B' at least in your student teaching, we'll hire you.' So I got the appropriate grade and I was on a plane from North Carolina to Columbus that Christmas. So I was recruited for [desegregation]." The oldest of four children, Alice Munnerlyn grew up in rural Perquimans County on the North Carolina coast. Her parents, she said, had high expectations for their children. Alice graduated cum laude with a major in English and a minor in Library Science. She says leaving home was an adventure but also a necessity because teaching jobs were hard to come by. "So if you were looking for a teaching job at home you would have a long wait," Munnerlyn said. "But I wanted to teach so I thought it was a great opportunity to leave my small town!" Now, 38 years later, Munnerlyn is teaching five English classes a day at Independence High School. She also spent many years as a librarian at Eastmoor Middle School. Along the way she found time to earn a graduate degree in Education from Ohio State University. But now a portion of her teaching career is winding down. Looking back, she said she hopes she's been able to instill certain values in her students. "I think that I've tried to teach the students the issue of work ethic and being responsible, because many times I'm perceived as being hard, being mean, oh yes, and stern," Munnerlyn said. "But there are some things they need to know that have to be done." At first, the young woman from Perquimans County wanted to be a lawyer. But she said she was afraid she could not afford the schooling. She earned her teaching degree with the aid of work study, loans and grants. It became clear early on that teaching was not only a life's calling, it was a passion. "I'd been teaching about six years and I was in the supermarket and a young lady called me by my maiden name and I hadn't heard it in years. And I looked around and she told me who she was and she told me, 'You know, Miss Munnerlyn, we thought you was so mean, but you really weren't mean at all.' And so for me, it was a verification that I'm really trying to expose them to some of the things that they are going to encounter when they get into the real world," Munnerlyn said. Though her days as a public school teacher are coming to a close, Munnerlyn's not giving up teaching altogether. In addition to many other duties at Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church on East Broad Street, she leads the Wednesday night Bible Study class. On a recent evening a small, attentive group braved bad weather for the Bible study. Munnerlyn was teaching about the events that led to Christ's crucifixion. "Our basic theme is 'to prove all things, hold fast to that which is good, part two.' And again as I said, we're looking at did the thief go to heaven that day? We found this account in Luke, the 23rd Chapter," she said. Munnerlyn wanted to make it an even forty years as a public school teacher. But she's afraid she'll lose certain benefits if changes are made to the state teacher's retirement system. She does look forward to a less hectic schedule. "I actually don't want to retire, but I am working overtime in the lesson planning issues so it's getting really stressful. I leave the house at 6; most evenings I'm not back home until 8 or 9 o'clock," she said. "That's a long day so I am looking forward to slowing down." Munnerlyn said she does not know where she'll spend her retirement years. She's still trying to decide whether to return to North Carolina to care for aging relatives. Her last day as a public school teacher is June 10th.