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A journey to the classroom

All educators come into their profession by different paths. Farmington High School’s Featured Teacher for October has one of the more interesting paths into the educational world.

Senior Master Sergeant Earnest Heflin, one of the high school’s two JROTC instructors, teaches leadership education. He said he loves being in the classroom with students, helping them relate subjects to real world situations.

“The military gives us great materials in our curriculum, but every now and then there’s something going on in the school, the city or the world that we can relate to the topic we’re on, and kind of free-flow the conversation,” Heflin said. “That’s what I like the most—getting feedback and getting the kids involved.”

In simplifying what the JROTC program really is for students, Heflin said he sometimes refers to it as the “Walmart of high school,” meaning that it’s a one-stop shop for post high school planning.

“If you’re looking for college, technical school or, obviously, the military after high school, we can be a program from your freshman to senior year that will slowly get you prepared for life after graduation,” he said. “By the time your junior year rolls around, we’re looking at life choice, meaning what they want to do and how we’re going to get you there.”

The interesting thing about Heflin’s involvement in assisting students plan out their educational and professional goals is that he did not have the same advisement opportunity at the small school he graduated from in Oklahoma. Had somebody talked through his options with him, he said, he would likely have went directly into teaching.

“I started out with a year of college right after high school,” Heflin explained. “I thought that was the ‘normal’ thing to do. We didn’t have any guidance, per se, of what to do. I took my academics to Tulsa. It was too large of a city, too large of a school. I got homesick and came back home to start working over the summer.”

After deciding to take a year off from college to work, Heflin soon decided to not go back. He was working an oil field job and things were going well he said, until oil prices dropped in 1986 and cause the company he worked for to go bankrupt.

It was at this time that Heflin walked into a recruiter’s office in Enid, Oklahoma.

“I walked in there and there was a Senior Master Sergeant sitting behind the desk,” Heflin said. “He started to get up, but I said, ‘I’ve just got one question. It might be a short trip. What is the cutoff to enter the Air Force?’

“At the time, he said it was 27 and I was 24. He said I wasn’t too old, but he said, ‘I’ve got a question for you. Can you take orders from an 18-year old?’ I kind of shook my head and thought, ‘Well, I guess I can.’”

Heflin said he entered the Air Force with the intention of serving for only four years, but quickly surpassed that.

“Next thing I know, I rolled into Desert Shield and Desert Storm,” he said. “I came back and realized it’s not a bad way of life. I ended up doing 22 years before I retired in June 2009.”

Serving 22 was not accidental, as his daughter was born during his first year, and she would be graduating college at his 22 year mark.

When he began looking at life after the military, Heflin said he considered a program called “Troops to Teachers,” which places former military personnel into inner-city school districts. The downside, Heflin said, is that those schools are all, consequently, in large urban areas.

“Then I came across the JROTC program,” he said. “I’d always thought about it, and had even thought about doing it when I was active duty. I looked into it and thought it wasn’t too bad a deal. It still lets me be a part of the military, as far as kind of weaning off, and still being able to help students.”

After seeing a job opening for a JROTC instructor posted online, Heflin expressed interest, interviewed with then-principal Matt Ruble and began his work in the Farmington School District in January 2010.

If things had gone different, however, Heflin said he might be in a position of preparing to retire from a school district after a much longer teaching career.

“Teaching this program has taught me to reflect on myself,” he said. “I’m teaching these students life after high school—what they want to do, the importance of following your heart and also going over personality traits.

“I think I always wanted to be a teacher. I think if somebody would have given me a little bit of guidance in high school and told me to maybe go into secondary education, to study history, maybe be a coach—I would have been sitting here about to retire from a school district.”

Despite the winding road that led him to the classroom, Heflin’s experience with finding his way after high school, through his military career and into the Farmington School District all seem to uniquely qualify him to help advise and foster JROTC students’ as they begin to plan to either move on into college, technical school or the military, building a life upon the foundational life skills learned while at Farmington.

Senior Master Sergeant Earnest Heflin, one of Farmington High School's two JROTC instructors, is the campus' Featured Teacher for the month of October.

Senior Master Sergeant Earnest Heflin, one of Farmington High School’s two JROTC instructors, is the campus’ Featured Teacher for the month of October.

Jacob Scott is a reporter with the Farmington Press. He can be reached at 573-518-3616 or at jscott@dailyjournalonline.com.

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