Teachers share pre-teaching job experiences

Elise Keller

Whether Webster teachers went to school here, have been here for over 20 years, or are in their first year of teaching, Webster hasn’t been their only home, and teaching hasn’t been their only job. 

Before settling down, Webster Groves High School staff were world travelers, bean farmers, and more.

Brent Mackey

German teacher Brent Mackey began working many years ago at age seven on a bean farm in Indiana.

“When I was little I grew up on a farm with four brothers, and the three older ones, at this time I was probably seven or eight years old, we had to work out in the bean fields and we were given a garden hoe and we would start off the morning at about five in the morning, maybe 4:30 a.m., we’d go out to the barn and we would turn on the grinder and we would sharpen our garden hoes,” Mackey said.

“Then we would drive my mom’s car back to the back of the farm. We didn’t have our licenses or anything like that, it was just on the farm, so we would drive back there and we would walk. We would each take three rows of beans on each side of us and we would walk up and down the bean fields and cut out all the weeds. We would do it until about 9:30 or 10 in the morning because that’s when it started getting hot,” Mackey said.

“So that’d be about four, four-and-a-half hours or work, and then we would go in until it started to cool off in the evening until about 5 p.m. I think, and then we would go from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m., and we would just do that all summer. Once we got done with the field, we’d get a couple days of break, and then we would just do it again. We’d go back and cut out the weeds again because weeds would grow back,” Mackey said.

“Our house didn’t have air conditioning except for this one window unit, so we would all just go into the living room and just sit there in front of it for a long time. It was not terribly enjoyable. My dad gave us 75 cents an hour, and I’m not that old that that was the standard at the time. That was not the standard. So by the end of the summer I think I remember getting a check from my dad for about $75. Which, if you do the quick math, that’s 100 hours of work,” Mackey said.

Jon Petter

Jon Petter, psychology teacher, is now frequently called “Coach Petter” or “Mr. Petter,” but in high school, Petter was commonly known as “Pancake Boy.”

“My parents owned an International House of Pancakes for 12 years. I was a cook, a host, a busser. They used to call me pancake boy in high school. They said my blood was made of syrup because I was always running practice and then go right to work at IHOP,” Petter said.

Petter worked at his parents’ IHOP from age ten until he went to college.

“I don’t like pancakes anymore because I’ve cooked and made so many pancakes,” Petter said.

Greg Heard

Science teacher Greg Heard worked for Royal Carribean Cruise Lines after graduating from Auburn University. Photo provided by Greg Heard.

Greg Heard, science teacher, traveled the world before he decided to go back to school to become a teacher.

“My most interesting one would be my first job out of college. I went and worked for Royal Carribean Cruise Lines as a dive instructor, and I was on their ships and worked on their islands for two years, taking people out diving and snorkeling and stuff” Heard said. 

“It was fun. It was a lot of fun. When I graduated from Auburn it was March of ‘92, and I finished my last final and I’d already been hired by Royal Carribean, which I didn’t really need a degree, but I had my dive instructor’s license and, and I’d had that since high school or college. So I took my last final and I left that day and went to Atlanta, and I flew from Atlanta to New York and then across to France,” Heard said.

“I boarded their brand new ship, and I was there for about two weeks while the ship was being finished, and then we spent seven or eight days crossing to the States. We took the same crossing that the Titanic did at the same dates as the Titanic, which is kind of wild. It was rough seas,” Heard said.

“Once we got to the States we hit New York, Philadelphia, Charleston, South Carolina, and Miami, and then the ship went out of Miami was there. I stayed on that ship for a few months, five or six months, and then Royal Caribbean has a private island called Coco Cay, and I lived on that for about a year on and off. I was on a couple of other ships, and I finally just decided I’d had enough of that. I came back home and went back to school to become a teacher,” Heard said.

“It’s fun. I highly reccomend it.” Heard said, “But I’m not at all upset that I left because I love teaching even more.”

Patrick Bommarito

Spanish teacher Patrick Bommarito had a similar experience abroad. Bommarito worked as an interpreter and English teacher after graduating. “Before teaching, I graduated from grad school at Truman, and then I spent a year abroad in Guatemala as an interpreter/ English teacher. I was there for about 11 months or so. I would work with people learning English, and I would help meet them,” Bommarito said.

He also helped to translate and interpret.

“Whenever there’d be a group of Americans that would come to meet kids that they sponsored through this program called Unbound, I’d translate for those interactions and the presentations and things like that,” Bommarito said.

Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith, Latin teacher, grew up on country farmland like Mackey.

“In the summer of 1989,  I was living in southern Missouri before I moved back home to St. Joe. My dad worked in agribusiness. They made vaccines for cows and horses,” Smith said.

“So to make a vaccine, you need serum, which is like a byproduct of the blood without the white blood cells. It’s kind of like a blood-like liquid. They had a whole truckload of frozen horse serum–like a big tractor-trailer filled with one gallon milk jugs, but they’re filled with frozen horse serum,” Smith said.

“But it had gone out of date, and legally FDA couldn’t make vaccines and stuff with like rotting, out of date blood– it was horse blood, gallons and gallons of horse blood. They needed all these guys to basically get rid of it, and the way they got rid of it is we had to unload that tractor-trailer. We had to unload all those one gallon jugs out in a field, and then we let the sun do the work,” Smith said

“Imagine you have a bunch of frozen milk jugs filled with horse blood and they’re all frozen. We had to wait until the sun thawed them out. Now we got putrid liquefied horse serum. Then we had to pop the jugs off, dump them into a corrugated steel tub,” Smith said.

“One guy could drive the tractor. He’d suck up the blood with this hose on the tractor, and we’d spread it out on the fields, you know like a lawn sprinkler, except it was rotten horse blood. We used it on the soybean crops. That’s probably an FDA violation, too,” Smith said.

“We had to dump all those drugs out, and I was a little wimpy, four foot eleven, hundred pound weakling at the time, so I was so damn sore after the first date from like doing the Farmer Walk with those one-gallon jugs and dumping them. The next day I could hardly move my arms because I was 14 and all the other guys were 16-, 18-year-olds. I was the guy that had to hose out all these jugs, empty them out and clean them. Foamy, rotten horse blood. I was cleaning out these like gallon milk jugs with a hose, and I was smelling like the sticky, rotten horse stuff. It was gross,” Smith said.

“I made like a hundred fifty bucks over three or four days. I bought a skateboard and never really rode it, so there’s my story. I did it for nothing,” Smith said.

Elise Keller – Editor in Chief

This will be Elise Keller’s third year on ECHO staff, but she made several contributions while taking journalism class her freshman year.


Support Our Sponsors

Leave a Reply