Blessed to have learned from the best: Ed Carter retires

On the last day of school, Ed Carter called me with some big news: after 45 years at North Sand Mountain High School, he had just retired.  The longest-running teacher in that school’s history (a record I’m betting will never be broken) stepped down quietly, with no fanfare.  Classy as always.  He knew this year’s graduation, the school’s 50th, would be his last.  “But it was the seniors’ night,” he told me.  “I didn’t want to be a distraction.”  He’s ready to do more volunteering and traveling, and spend more time with his wonderful wife Barbara.  Why now? “No particular reason,” he said. “I just think it’s the right time.”

Ed Carter

Ed Carter

That says a lot about Ed Carter.  He’s the very definition of the term “old school.”  It might be hard for the class of 2014 to imagine this 66-year-old veteran as a rookie teacher, but it’s easy for me.  I was there.

In the fall of 1969, North Sand Mountain was in its fifth year as a high school, and was considered Pisgah’s inferior little brother.  Those of us who lived in Bryant had a choice of high schools:  we could ride a bus just five miles away to NSM. The School Board simultaneously ran a bus 30 miles farther to Pisgah, giving in to popular demand.  Many Bryant residents had graduated from Pisgah, and wanted their children to do so.

My sister Elaine had started her great teaching career at NSM a little earlier, and encouraged me to enroll in 8th grade, to get a head start on high school.  Compared to Bryant, it was a tough crowd.  Some of the other 8th graders had been held back a year or two, and could cause some trouble.  On my first day, I got my first-ever paddling.  An elderly science teacher split up the students: girls on the left side of the room, boys on the right.  One of the boys was making noises, and when no one would admit to it, the teacher just lined up all the boys, and paddled us all.  Welcome to NSM!


Meanwhile, a few classrooms down the hall, young Edward H. Carter was making his teaching debut at the age of 22.  Just four years removed from Section High School, and fresh out of Jacksonville State, he was off to a rough start.  Some of the veteran teachers were rather relaxed, permitting a casual atmosphere.  Discipline was spotty at best.  Tardiness was not uncommon, and there were plenty of class clowns to go around.  So after a few hours of “Welcome Back Kotter” style behavior, we entered Room 16 and had to deal with Carter instead of Kotter.

No nonsense.  No excuses.  No fun.  This guy was serious about teaching and learning.  This did not go over well.  Some of the older students tried to intimidate the rookie teacher.  Maybe with enough complaints, they could run him off.  I’d seen it happen before in our end of the county.  Some new guy comes in, starts enforcing the rules, and boom!  He was gone.  (If you had told me in the fall of ’69 that Mr. Carter would still be at NSM in the spring of ’70, I would’ve bet against that.  And if you’d told me he would be there for 45 years, I wouldn’t let you drive.)

Most courageously, Mr. Carter took on some of the disgusting behaviors of that era.  It was not uncommon to hear certain racial slurs thrown around in public, and in the classroom.  Yes, it was inexcusable.  You can say we didn’t know any better, or our parents didn’t know any better, and in some cases you would be right.  But Mr. Carter wouldn’t hear of it.  He had zero tolerance for bigotry, profanity or bullying.  Some of the older students, who were close to Mr. Carter’s age, tried to bully the teacher.  He stood his ground.  Sadly, few students stood up for him, because that was not a “cool” thing to do.

The heat would reach a boiling point each May.  As graduation time neared, some of the slackers would express shock when they were informed they wouldn’t get a diploma.  They had failed Mr. Carter’s class, having missed numerous assignments despite his frequent warnings.  Mr. Carter wouldn’t yield.  The outcry was predictable: students squealed, parents squealed louder.  “Just let him make up the work!”  But this teacher went by the rules.   He had standards, and the students of NSM had better start living up to them.

Some demanded change, and thankfully it soon came.  The tough young teacher stayed, and helped change the school culture.  During his 45 years, Ed Carter has taught thousands of students, including recent grads who are grandchildren of that 1970 senior class.  He has worked for every principal in the school’s history.  NSM is a far better place, a nationally recognized school thanks to his influence.  Other teachers had to step up their game to keep pace.  After all, who wants to be known as “the easy teacher?”  No one will ever say that about Ed Carter.  He taught us our presidents (yes, I can still recite them, as can most other former Carter students).  He taught us how to behave, and taught us how to succeed in college.

I’ve long given him much of the credit for my career.  He was the teacher who got me excited about government, politics, history and current events.  Every day I work in journalism, I’m drawing upon those lessons learned in Ed Carter’s classroom in Higdon, Alabama.

He is the common bond among NSM graduates.  Whenever I meet one, I always ask, “Did you have Mr. Carter?”  “Oh, yes,” they’ll say.  I’ll respond, “Washington, Adams, Jefferson.”  They’ll say, “Madison, Monroe, Adams.”  It’s like our secret password.  And with a knowing smile, we agree we were blessed to have learned from the best.


About David Carroll

David Carroll is a longtime Chattanooga radio and TV broadcaster, and has anchored the evening news on WRCB-TV since 1987. He is the author of "Chattanooga Radio & Television" published by Arcadia.

22 thoughts on “Blessed to have learned from the best: Ed Carter retires

  1. Austin L. Garrett

    Great article David! Mr.Carter is a class act. Great teacher that has impacted thousands of lives during his career. (Wonder who will try to roll his yard this year)?


  2. Rebecca

    Ed Carter is a man of integrity, knowledge, and kindness. I had the privilege of teaching with him for my entire educational career. He is a God given blessing.

  3. Robert K Schrader

    Great tribute about a great man
    He taught all four of the Schrader siblings as well as a number of their children. He is a man of integrity and true Christian character. Like numerous other students I am proud to say I am a product of an excellent educator and an even more wonderful friend. Best wishes Mr. Carter!!

  4. Daniel Gentle

    This great man taught my grandmother my mother and me just kind of bummed out he won’t be there in 2 years to teach my son you can say NSM just lost one of their founding fathers enjoy your retirement Mr. Carter

  5. Tena

    He was a great teacher! I loved his dry sense of humor and am grateful to have had the opportunity to be his student. And I too can still recite the presidents.

  6. Alan Smith

    I started out rough with Mr. carter I thought he just didn’t like me. but by my senior year I had nothing but respect for him. I owe a lot to him for putting up with me and not giving up on me Thanks Mr. Carter love you man!

  7. Melinda Inman blevins

    Mr. Carter was truly stric but if you would try he was their for you. Any one who entered his class ,would leave it learning something. Not only did he teach my sister, my brother and me, he also taught. My son. Me. Carter didn’t only want to teach his Students he cared for them at the age 16 my son was in a serious auto accident Mr. Carter not only visited him at the hospital he asked me what could he do for us at the time I didn’t know but when I went to explain about his brain injury and he had list a year of his memory. So Mr. Carter being the good person he is offered that when my son “Kyle” got well enough to go back to school he would come in early before school every morning and tutor him until he got caught up and he did as he said and Kyle graduated with his class. Thank you for caring Rdward Carter! Respectfully yours Melinda Inman Blevis

  8. Savanah Brazelton

    I will admit I fell asleep in Economics once or twice, but I still admire this man. I tied his record for saying the Presidents the fastest! I have seen other sides of him since graduating in 2002, & I am blessed to have had him as a teacher. He deserves a wonderful retirement!

  9. Shelia Rightmire Page

    Awesome Tribute David, I was blessed to have started at NSM in first grade in 1969… At the time I had no idea how young the school itself was. Thank you David for such an insight into the history of our school and what a accurate and fitting praise for such an icon of a teacher: to Mr Carter….Jackson , Van Buren, Harrison

  10. Jerome Walsh

    Congratulations to a man that God has blessed to teach many of people the true meaning of what a real teacher that will not budge or give you extra points, if you did not make the grade, you sure did not get the grade. Thank you Mr Carter for your service. May God bless you with a blessed retirement.

  11. Vickie

    Mr. Carter was a great teacher who many didn’t really appreciate until NSM was an after thought. I am certain there will never be another quite like him. Enjoy your retirement Mr Carter you have truly earned it.

  12. Debbie Atchley Tiffin

    I had Mr. Carter for 3 years. When I first took his class, it was to get a credit needed to graduate. Before 10th grade was over, I was hooked. Everyone said he was strict. Well that’s true but he was also fair. I hated history and under Mr. Carter, I learned to love it. He was and still is my most favorite teacher.

  13. brian

    i agree with all the other comments. Mr. Carter is an exellent teacher. i learned so much from him. happy retirement Mr.Carter you have earned it.


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