Thomas (Ted) E. Leahey Jr. is a Ball State alum who completed his undergraduate degree in English Education and Speech and later graduated in 1964 with a Masters in English and Communications. After teaching English in the public education system for 34 years, Leahey then became the English specialist for and directed the IU Bloomington’s Advance College Project program before retiring from that position in 2010. He soon resumed a teaching career in Communications for 9 years at IU East before retiring again in 2019.
What did you study at Ball State and why?
First, I will begin by saying I am retired from teaching after 56 years with a career beginning as a 5th grade teacher in a departmental elementary school in Union City, Indiana, my hometown. As a Ball State College student, I planned a teaching career at the high school level with a Math major and English minor. Having tested out of introductory required Math, I jumped forward into more complex instruction. I also tested out of the first two levels of English required writing courses, and also had to select from upper electives to satisfy the requirements. And so, the career of becoming an English teacher vs. Math teacher began! After a year of Math, as well as spending most Saturdays after working the morning shift in Dehority women’s dorm washing pots and pans trying to solve complex Math problems, I decided in Sophomore year that I was finished with Math. The course in the English curriculum had sparked an interest I had not realized was there.
I finished my undergraduate degree in teaching with a double major in English and Speech. In the fall quarter of my Senior year, the Chair of the English Department called me to his office and let me know that if I took just two additional classes in the Speech Dept. I would have completed a major in that area because many of the courses then were crossover in the two departments! I only lacked 3 courses for a minor in Math, but at that time, a double major cancelled out the major-minor requirement. And, I received my Masters in Communications and a minor area in English 3 years after graduation in 1964 (there was a state requirement to start and complete in 3 years in order to retain a teaching license).
What led you to your current career?
The required courses to satisfy an English certification introduced me to speech-related courses in radio and TV (the first TV studio was created in that time frame, theatre including stagecraft, theatre management, etc. As a result, President Emens and his wife selected me to be responsible for his celebration and to be head at the Little Theatre. That moment introduced me to parking, food selections, ticket takers and greeters, which became part of my lifetime experiences with the Arts and Preservation event planning!
How did your college-to-career pivot affect your current career?
I spent 3 years at the elementary level and was asked to move to the high school in Union City where I became a teacher of a variety of courses that I designed at the administration’s request. This included remediation for Freshmen and Sophomores, as well as Advanced Composition that became a requirement for all students planning to attend college. During those 34 years, I was introduced to actual college course work with IU’s W131, an opportunity for dual credit at both the university and high school level. I also was fortunate to connect with the Indiana Arts Commission when the Superintendent received a $20,000 grant to promote the arts. In that position, I connected with the local Art Association of Randolph Co. Inc. and that led me to work with the Indiana Landmarks (now as it is named) because the Art Assoc. purchased an abandoned Railroad Depot to become its home. There, I acquired skills with renovating old buildings which led to the formation of The Preservation Society of Union City IN-OH, Inc. These endeavors continue to this day!
How did your major prepare you for your life and for this job?
A Gen Ed requirement when I was at Ball State Teachers College was Art Appreciation and Music Appreciation which totally became much a part of my classroom instruction of Language Arts! Who would have thought? And it remains with me to this day… I would hold the education I received at Ball State above and beyond the IVY leagues in many ways!
What is your advice to other Humanities students?
The most important lesson I learned early in my career was the importance of becoming not only an active part of the school family, but also the community. JCs taught me leadership, community involvement, interaction with others and lifelong skills. The school community taught me the value of remaining abreast of current education movements and a fresh eye to curricula and directions in education. Our school corporation expected teachers to affiliate with their content area, attend state and national conferences, and bring that knowledge to our schools and courses. For example, after attending an NCTE conference in Minneapolis, a fellow teacher and I were introduced to the innovation of computers in classrooms. Our school became the first in our area to implement computers in the curriculum, and we were visited by many corporations to consider their effectiveness for their own schools. All of this is to say that to be an effective, vital, and happy teacher, one must take advantage of all opportunities that present themselves!
Happiness comes from engagement, not only at the university level, but most importantly, in the school, with all its programs, with the community, and with organizations and trends in content area and in education inclusively. Satisfaction will never come from existing in the classroom. A teacher is much more than the content. Students will engage with you if you engage with them: their activities, their hopes and dreams, and if you allow them to see their potential and you help them see a path to develop their talents.