E. Wayne Gent traces his call to the teaching profession back to his parents, who were long-time Sunday school teachers and important influences in the lives of their students. Through them, he developed a passion for education and a particularly soft heart for students who, like his parents, come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Gent, who serves as superintendent of The Palm Beach County School District, recently shared his personal story about becoming a teacher, coach and school administrator with Palm Beach Atlantic students in the School of Education and Behavioral Studies.
So many of you are here today because of a great teacher who influenced you; the challenge is to be that teacher, Gent told the students, ranging from freshmen to seniors. “You’re a hot commodity,” he said, because principals want to hire PBA graduates due to the values-based teacher education they have received at the University.
The Palm Beach County School District is the 11th largest in the nation with nearly 13,000 teachers in 185 schools. The approximately 180,000 students come from 191 countries and speak 146 different languages. While the name Palm Beach belies wealth, Gent noted that 51 percent of the district’s students are enrolled in the free or reduced lunch program.
The District employs more than 400 Palm Beach Atlantic alumni, Gent said. “We want you to stay in Palm Beach County and work for us,” he said, noting that most of the district’s new teachers are local.
A graduate of Mars Hill, a Christian college in North Carolina, Gent talked about his decision in college to become a teacher, his early career when he taught and coached basketball, and his transition into a school administrator. He holds a master’s degree in education administration from the University of Georgia. He’s been an assistant principal, an area superintendent and CEO of the School District’s administration. All told, Gent is a 30-year veteran in the field of higher education.
For the balance of his talk, Gent shared his collection of reflections about teaching. Among them: “Students don’t learn something by listening to you talk. They learn by saying it themselves and applying it to their own world,” and “Don’t allow your doubt to stand in your way.”
“Many kids come to school for the teacher,” Gent said. “You want to be that teacher. Many of you are here today because of a teacher.”