Pickens native Keith Petty talks changes in community
Keith Petty is a native of Pickens County and has been employed with the Pickens County Board of Education for 21 years. He has been system Teacher of the Year, a STAR Teacher finalist twice, and STAR Teacher once. He enjoys writing and has written for several publications including the Pickens County Progress and Georgia Backroads magazine. He balances his professional life with simplicity, a few close relationships, and good books.
Had you always planned to become a teacher?
I actually took some time after high school and wound up continuing to work at the Jasper Dairy Queen, the same job I had in high school; but I needed some time to realize what I wanted to do. I think it is good for young people to work these types of entry-level jobs so that they can see what they are like, and that may encourage them to do something that requires some post-secondary education.
I entered Kennesaw State University as a Business Communications major. After a few classes I realized I was not cut out for the corporate world. Teaching had been something in the back of my mind, so I declared secondary English education as my major.
Once you settled on teaching, did you plan of coming back to your native county?
I, at first, thought of going to Alaska to teach. I thought I would like to live there, but that was thinking about me. In those days, I just wanted to escape from Pickens County. I then realized how much I could do to influence the young people in my community where I had grown up. How much I would care about the students didn't really sink in until I was in a classrooms and made all the connections.
There is a lot of talk about how frustrating teaching can be because of all the testing and requirements imposed by the state. Is this a problem for you?
What comes down from the state can be frustrating, but, as a career, I can only think of a couple of things I would rather do than teach. When I'm in my classroom, engaged with my students, all the frustration of state mandates goes away.
I think in Pickens County our school board and superintendent make the state requirements as easy and palatable as possible.
What are some of your other interests?
I like to write, but I don’t have the time to devote to it. I would like to finish a novel-length manuscript, but by the time I get home from work, I just want to chill. I used to really like Stephen King and wanted to write stories similar to what he does, but I realized I was horrible at his genre. I need to draw from my personal experiences in order to produce writing that is of any quality.
Do you think a book is still in your future?
Maybe. Being a well-known author would be my ultimate career dream.
You also sing and act?
I have been in two Christmas productions and had a small part in Hello Dolly (through the high school drama department). Since my early 20s I have sung at church, weddings, and funerals. I have never taken vocal lessons. I did take piano for a little while but can’t read music instantaneously. Being on stage is a new experience, but I love it, especially since I get to work with some of my former students and see them in an entirely different light than in the academic classroom.
You used to travel and take bicycle trips [that he would write about for the Progress]?
I purchased a house in 2013 and that keeps me close. It is taking precedent over everything else, and, quite frankly, I enjoy being at home.
People may think this is strange, but yard work is my therapy.
As a longtime native, what is the biggest change you have seen in this county? Diversity of the population and I am glad to see it. I know from when I did travel, and the biking and going away to college that there is so much more out there. It’s not bad but it was all that I knew when we I was growing up.
Politically you are in a minority here?
I am a Democrat, who is on the liberal side. I am not nearly as outspoken as I once was, and I’m not too far out there. I tone down my responses most of the time, given the conservative political nature of our community. I don’t want to get a club in the back of the head.
I may be viewed as a bleeding-heart liberal, but I don’t want the free enterprise system to go away. It just gets me that in such a wealthy country, so many people lack the basics while wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few. All people need to do what they can to help others, but I alone can only do so much. I work a regular job like the majority of Americans, and my dollars only go so far. I don’t like human suffering in any form, and if I were a rich man, I would devote much of my time and resources to philanthropic endeavors.
What is something you have watched or read recently that you enjoyed?
90 Minutes in Heaven, the movie.
Is the movie different than the book?
Yes, the movie is inspirational in that we all make a difference in the lives of others. We are here to serve and love one another. It also says a lot of about family and friends and sticking with them.
Any unusual hobbies?
I have a collection of shaving mugs. I still use the old-fashioned brush and shaving soap. I have about 30 shaving mugs.
Do you have any funny stories from your 21 years in the classroom?
I have some but most you couldn’t print. In my classroom there are high expectations, but there is also a lot of laughter. A teacher doesn't have to be a tyrant to educate young people. It’s about building relationships. One thing about education that has changed is we spend so much time on academics that there is not time to nurture relationships.