‘My small difference in the world’: ABC teacher retires after 50 years in education

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Teacher Larry Powell poses for a portrait at ABC Stewart School in Columbus, Ind., Wednesday, May 18, 2022. Powell has announced he’s retiring after 50 years in education. He spent 37 years teaching at ABC Stewart.

TEACHING wasn’t Plan A for Larry Powell. He initially majored in business before dropping out to join the Air Force Reserves. After that, he painted airplanes and worked at a car dealership before later deciding to finish his degree. At the time, his sister was teaching at a school for “educationally disadvantaged kids.”

“I went and just volunteered with her for a while, and she loved it,” said Powell. “And I fell in love with it as well. And so a lot of my techniques — natural consequence type things — I picked up from her. So then I went back, finished my degree — actually in economics, took education courses with that, then went back and got a master’s of science in education.”

Now, after 50 years in education, Powell is retiring. His career includes 13 years with Children Inc and 37 with the ABC-Stewart School, where he’s taught 3- to 6-year-olds.

When asked what the best part of teaching is, Powell replied, “Well, for one thing, it’s fun. I love doing it.”

“I’ve had to put a lot of energy into it,” he continued. “But I’ve never really had to put work into it because it’s always play. It’s fun. So I’m one of those lucky people who say they never really had to work a day in their life.”

The most challenging part? “Staying consistent.”

Consistency, said Powell, is the key to letting students make choices and learn from the consequences.

“The only way natural consequences work is if the teacher isn’t angry,” he said. “And the only way teachers don’t get angry is by being consistent. It’s when you say the same thing over five, or six, or seven times, that any person gets angry. So as a teacher, you have to be very consistent. I ask twice … then whatever natural consequence follows that action, then I let them live with that.”

For instance, if students are supposed to be working but are instead being overly social, he will give them two reminders. If they do not listen, the consequence is that they have to finish their work during recess — because they were playing while the other students worked.

When asked why he’s retiring now, Powell said that teaching takes a lot of energy and has been especially draining during the pandemic.

His post-teaching plans include taking care of his farm and continuing to work on his house, which he built himself. He also hopes to travel more.

“And then I just have to find another purpose,” he said. “… Maybe doing some volunteering. It’s the new thing. I’ve been doing this for 50 years. It’s going to be a discovery for myself.”

He knows it’s the right time, but it’s still hard to go, said Powell.

In reflecting on what he enjoys about teaching, he said it’s rewarding to reunite with former students who still remember him.

“My thing is to make my small difference in the world,” said Powell. “You can’t affect the whole world; you can only affect the part that you control of it.”