BY RICK WRIGHT –
Andy Philpot is currently the English-9 teacher at Mena High School. He teaches creative writing, journalism, and under the journalism field falls the Bearfacts Newspaper. Philpot also teaches Yearbook and creates the Yearbook with the students. He also creates the Souvenir Sports Programs for the School District, which is a project, not a class. “It’s fun, a little time consuming but it’s so worth it,” said Philpot. “It’s all very rewarding.”
Philpot was hired by Mena School District in July of 2014. “The 2014-15 school year was my first year to teach,” said Philpot. “I did not have a teaching degree at the time. I graduated from U.C.A. in 2001 with a Journalism Degree. So, I went through the nontraditional teaching license program, which is called the Apple Program. It was the best thing in the world for me.”
“At 35 years old at the time, I was in the same boat with 48 other people,” said Philpot. “We started the same path; everybody from all fields and all walks of life. We didn’t have a teaching degree but wanted to be a teacher. We needed to be hired to be a teacher and needed to become a teacher. So we went through a two-year program together. Going with other people who were gaining the same knowledge at the same time was fantastic.”
The two-year program was completed online and in classes that Philpot traveled to Van Buren to attend. “After two years, I officially have my teaching license, and I’m just as certified as anyone else in the building.”
Philpot was born in Mena in 1979. He was raised here in Mena with great parents. Philpot has one older brother who is seven years older than he is. “I had a great relationship growing up with my brother,” said Philpot. “Went all the way through school in the Mena School System. Born and raised here and never had a discussion about leaving Mena.”
I met Andy when I filled in at Mena Middle School for Mr. Ron Maples. When the classroom assignments were complete, Andy and I talked sports.
“As an eighth grader, I hadn’t found the true Andy Philpot yet,” said Philpot. “I was very shy, did well in school. It wasn’t until high school, that I found myself. I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. It was in my 10th grade school year, I had Randy Lindsey as my English teacher. I fell in love with writing as a second grader, and I’ve always loved to write. English was always a class I enjoyed. At the end of the school year when Mr. Lindsey handpicked his students to become journalism students, he picked me and I really cannot tell you what an honor it was, because out of 120 students to be one of the 10 that he saw something in was such an honor. He saw something in me that I loved and saw a place for me. He made a difference in my life.”
Philpot is determined to make a difference in his student’s lives today and for years to come. “We are here to help guide and teach these students,” said Philpot. “Teaching and enabling them in things that I can pass along no matter if it’s photography, writing, passion for English and writing, newspapers, because I had someone hand that to me. It was Mr. Lindsey.”
“I found my place, ” said Philpot. “I wasn’t the one playing basketball, but I was the one writing about basketball, taking pictures of basketball, writing about things going on at the school. At that age it was an honor to be in the newspaper, but to create the newspaper, to have people read your work was an honor. That helped shape me.”
“It got me to the point in life that after graduation, I had something I wanted to do,” said Philpot. “I got my Associates Degree from RMCC, stuck around for three more semesters and that three semesters I confirmed in my mind that when I went to UCA in Conway, I knew what I wanted to do, get a journalism degree with a creative writing minor.”
Philpot found something he wanted and went after it. After graduation, Philpot did not find his dream job, but went to work for Walmart in the photo lab. “As a photographer I loved working with the people, telling them about picture taking and showing them their pictures. Working with cameras and selling them to people lit my fire to be a teacher.” said Philpot.
Although his path was not straight to teaching, he found his first dream job. “I worked for Walmart from 1999 to early 2008,” said Philpot. “The interest to teach never went away, even when I got my dream job at The Mena Star. As a journalism major, to become the editor of your hometown paper, where our paths crossed again there, to do that for six and a half years. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It taught me and prepared me for the future.”
Philpot brings those life’s preparations with him to his second dream job and into the classroom, much to the benefit of his students. “I am a different teacher at 35 than I would have been straight out of college,” said Philpot. “I bring in life lessons, things that I’ve experienced in my life from high school to the present day; things I know these kids and benefit from knowing. That’s what I work into my lessons. I try to make my lessons as relevant as possible. Make them understand why I’m recapping parts of speech and comma usage, being able to communicate with somebody. They will use this stuff in the real world.”
And now, Philpot wouldn’t have life any other way. “In my third year of teaching I’m blessed and honored to be here,” said Philpot. “When I got hired on in the summer of 2014, I felt like the door of opportunity swung open at a time and it did for a reason. Six and a half years at The Mena Star was awesome. I learned a lot about myself and this community, which prepared me for this.”