ARLY — Sometime around age 40, Connie Moss arrived at defining moment in her professional life. She was forced to reinvent herself.

Despite being a longtime employee, Moss got caught up in a downsizing move at GTE in Brownwood.

“I thought I would work at GTE until I retired. I could have moved to another GTE job in San Angelo or out of state in Indiana, but we didn’t want to move,” Moss said, referring to her and husband James Moss, an Early native.

“I was at a crossroads. I had a decision to make – a family decision. I felt called to move in that direction.”

“That direction” was teaching. The only problem was Connie Moss didn’t have a college degree and wasn’t even close. After graduating from Early High School in 1973, she had briefly attended Texas Tech and Howard Payne. But she didn’t finish, and instead, married James and had two daughters.

Jobs came and went at Southern Savings and Loan, GTE and with Child Protective Services. Connie Moss decided to return to college, commuting to Tarleton State in Stephenville, to pursue an education degree so she could teach high school English.

“Education had been in my family,” Moss said. “My mom was a schoolteacher and dad had a teacher’s certificate. My younger sister and older brother were both teachers so it was always in the back of my mind. I just didn’t see myself as a teacher of others until later in life.”

Pursuing a college degree later in life, Moss wound up attending Tarleton at the same time as her oldest daughter, Melanie. When Moss was a student teacher at Early High School, her youngest daughter, Angela, was in one of her mom’s classes.

“It was a cool experience for me,” Moss said. “I know that can be an embarrassing time for young people and teenagers, but my daughters were cool with it. They were proud of what I was doing. They encouraged me.”

When she finished student teaching at Early in 1999, a fulltime position opened there to teach sophomore English. Moss has been teaching English at Early ever since.

“I love English. I think it’s an important subject for everyone,” Moss said. “There’s so much value in reading and writing throughout life.

“English prepares kids for the rest of their lives. There’s a basic need to communicate – whether it’s for a job, talking to someone at the grocery store or dealing with your own children.

“I wished more families valued education.”

Much has been reported and analyzed over the last 20-plus years about how the decline of the two-parent family unit has negatively impacted public education. Parents have become less involved with their kids’ education. Moss – like all other teachers these days – has been on the frontline of this ongoing challenge.

“The longer I teach, the more students I see that don’t know the importance of learning,” Moss said. “We see a lack of values, discipline and respect. It starts at home with parents not listening to their kids read to them before they even start to school.

“You realize some of your students are facing tough situations at home. They have other problems and finishing that paper for your class last night was probably not the most important thing to them.”

So Moss – like other teachers today – has to find a balance between having an understanding for her students’ situations but also maintaining academic standards.

“You work with each situation one-on-one, and you pray for guidance,” said Moss, the daughter of a Baptist minister. “Some students will play a teacher and try to take advantage of them. But we have to teach students that there are deadlines in life that excuses can’t explain away.

“You have to have a heart for teaching and for kids. I know not all the students love English, but you try to help them read and understand and figure it out.”

Besides, there are plenty of good students who want to learn – even amid the distractions of today with cellphones, texting and social media.

“I love Early. It’s a great place to be. My co-workers and the administration are so supportive,” Moss said. “There are some really good kids. I’m amazed at what some of them accomplish.

“To be honest, I don’t know how some of them do it. At smaller schools like ours, they’re involved in several things besides academics. There’s sports and band and drill team and group activities. They’re busy, yet they’re taking care of business in the classroom.”

The rewards outweigh the challenges.

“One of my students bought me a cake today that read, ‘I’m sorry I was bad.’ She’s a great student. She was talking to a friend in class the other day, and I had to call her out for it. Moments like that are why we teach,” Moss said.

“Or it might be just a smile or a look on their face that they’ve figured something out or did the best they could on a paper.”

In Moss’s mind, there’s no doubt she made the right decision to pursue education later in life.

“I’ve never regretted it,” the 61-year-old teacher said. “I love the Early community and the students. We can learn from each other, no matter our age. And I rely on my strength in the Lord.”