John Smith

Courage & Renewal Facilitator
Speaks English

John retired as a professor of mathematics from Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee. His teaching load included statistics, mathematics for liberal arts, mathematics for teachers, precalculus and developmental mathematics. Before joining the faculty at Pellissippi State, he spent four years working in both urban and rural settings at the high-school level as a mathematics teacher and soccer coach. These were Title 1 schools with at-risk low-socioeconomic status student populations. As an unlikely academic and reformed math-hater, he had found his calling as a math and learning therapist for the non-math major.

Prior to his reentry into the academic world as a non-traditional student at the age of 48, John’s 1970s academic experience was that of a soccer player masquerading as a college student. This led to being a three-time college dropout. Following the end of this charade, with the door to the academy having been slammed firmly shut, he moved into the school of life, or if you prefer, the school of hard knocks. Life experiences included stints as a soccer player, soccer coach, construction worker, warehouse dock worker, forklift driver, dishwasher, cook, waiter, barback, bartender, bouncer, bar manager, bar owner, real estate agent, real estate appraiser, mortgage loan office and who knows what else. The most important of his many jobs during these seasons of life was that of a single parent raising a young son. This was an interesting time where along with his job as the owner and general manager of a neighborhood pub, he found time to serve as the “room mom (representative)” for his son’s first grade class.

Decades later, after his son had left home to play college football halfway across the country, it was soccer that gave John the chance to return to college as an assistant men’s and women’s’ coach. The job was only part time, but with tuition remission. He had managed to get his foot in the door that had been slammed shut on him so many years before. By this time, the light bulbs had finally come on. His fourth attempt at college would eventually yield four degrees, a B.A. in Spanish, a B.S. in Mathematics with a Computer Information Systems concentration, and a M.A.T in Secondary Education with a Mathematics Concentration, all from Piedmont College in Demorest, Georgia. A few years later, John was admitted to a doctoral program at the age of 55 in the Theory and Practice of Teacher Education (TPTE) department at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, where he earned a Ph.D. in Teacher Preparation, again with a Mathematics Concentration. This work was completed while teaching full course load at Pellissippi State. Over the course of his academic career, he made multiple conference presentations and facilitated workshops at the institutional, state, regional, national, and international levels, also serving as an officer of state and national professional organizations. Within his home institution he facilitated professional development programs employing the principles and practices he discovered in Parker Palmer’s work. His academic career included publication of a few sleep-inducing mathematics education equity themed research papers and co-authoring The Phenomenological Heart of Teaching and Learning: Theory, Research, and Practice in Higher Education.

When John moved  into the teaching profession, he had finally found his vocation. His many years as a soccer coach, along with all his other failures and successes in the school of life had proved essential in preparing for teaching. When he moved from the soccer field to the classroom, he taught statistics or quantitative methods. However, he chose to study and conduct qualitative phenomenological research. He had come to agree with the idea that “not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” Qualitative phenomenological research is the collecting of the stories of others. This was the right fit for his holistic approach to teaching and research, making space for multiple ways of knowing. John stumbled across Parker Palmer’s book, To Know as we are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey while working on his dissertation. From this chance encounter, he would eventually be introduced to the Center for Courage and Renewal. He attended his first Heart of Higher Education retreat in 2020. Since then, John has read everything he could find written by and about Parker Palmer. He has been a participant in many Circles of Trust programs, entering the facilitator preparation program in 2023. While in the program he has served as a co-facilitator with his CCR mentor. Although originally drawn to the Heart of Higher Education themes, he quickly branched out to programs related to the Soul of Aging, Healing the Heart of Democracy, and Earth related themes focused on our spiritual connection to nature. This led to an ongoing deep exploration of his own spiritual development, from his Irish American Catholic roots, Quaker ancestry, and his own walk of faith. His personal world view is that our primary purpose for being is to serve others. The Center for Courage and Renewal Facilitator Preparation Program seemed  a fitting path to continue in service to others.

John, and his wonderful wife and partner in mischief, Sherry, spend their time spoiling grandchildren, walking, gardening, reading, hiking, or what might be better described as meandering in their beloved Appalachian Mountains. Sherry, now a working artist,  is also a retired educator, having taught kindergarten for 28 years. Their love of travel has taken them on many journeys, exploring the backroads of the United States, Canada, Ireland, and Scotland, with Sherry’s easel and John’s journal always at the ready. Along with helping others with the inward search to get in touch with their soul, John’s plans include writing something other than academic texts. He hopes some of his writing will occasionally produce a chuckle, and on a good day, a full belly laugh.

Favorite quote

In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.

~attributed to Albert Schweitzer. (1875-1965) German theologian, philosopher, and physician.

Book Recommendation

The Great Conversation: Nature and the Care of the Soul

Belden C. Lane

Where I'm Finding Inspiration

Much of the inspiration I currently find is from my interactions with other members of the Center for Courage and Renewal. Whenever I become discouraged with the current state of a world that seems dominated by hate, my CCR colleagues are there with the essential message that I am not alone. With that message comes hope and a sense of peace, which provokes the question, how might I serve the world?

What I Do For Fun, Rest, and Renewal

First and foremost is the time we get to spend with our grandchildren. The time is limited because none live close by. They are spread across five states. This leads to the next favorite activity, which is traveling. Other favorites include walking, hiking or meandering(forest bathing), gardening, reading, writing,, yoga, prayer, and meditation, and doing the bidding of the cat who owns us.

Organizations I've Worked With

Sherry J. Smith Art
Townsend Artisan Guild
Waldens Ridge Gallery, LLC.
Pellissippi State Community College
The University of Tennessee-Knoxville
Transdisciplinary Phenomenology Research Group (University of Tennessee)
American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges
Research in Undergraduate Mathematics Education
Oliver Springs High School, Oliver Springs, Tennessee
Murray County High School, Chatsworth, Georgia
Gainesville High School, Gainesville, Georgia
Berkmar High School, Lilburn, Georgia
Habersham County Ninth Grade Academy, Demorest Georgia
Piedmont College, Demorest, Georgia
Truett McConnell Junior College, Cleveland, Georgia
Advantage Appraisals, Georgia
Marketplace Brokers, Lawrenceville, Georgia
J.D. Dempsey’s Eatery and Saloon, Lilburn, Georgia
North Lilburn Homeowners’ Association
Helen Morris Lilburn City Council Campaign Committee
Gwinnett Independent Restaurant Association
Mountain Park Soccer Association
Gwinnett Soccer Association
Atlanta District Amateur Soccer Association
Georgia Soccer Association
(this is not an exhaustive list)