English Teacher Steve Arnette retires after a dazzling teaching career
From copious cups to the art of Kandinsky, it’s hard to forget anything from English teacher Steve Arnette’s classes. He is vibrantly passionate, and his southern drawl and massive frame bring literature roaring to life.
From scuba diving in Bali to living in Puerto Rico, Honors and AP English teacher Steve Arnette has done it all, and he isn’t stopping any time soon. Arnette has taught math, both upper and lower levels of English, Journalism and Yearbook at three different schools, including King City and Paso Robles High School.
Arnette has touched his students through poetry, art, and literature. And as fellow English Teacher Aaron Cantrell famously said, “A day without a hug from Arnette is like a day without sunshine.”
Arnette’s favorite part about teaching is the students. “I love interacting with them, and learning about their lives, and presenting great literature to them. I love grading their essays and talking to them. And what I have also truly loved in the last ten years has been my collaboration with [Aaron] Cantrell, that has been phenomenal,” Arnette said.
Arnette visited Bali last summer and Cuba at the beginning of March, but his life, and his eventual romance with his wife, started 61 years earlier in Dillon, South Carolina. At the age of six he moved to Wadesboro, North Carolina, and then during the middle of eighth grade he moved to Mayaguez, Puerto Rico after his father transferred from his job. He has five step-siblings, two daughters, and three grandkids. But his family started with his wife, Katherine, whom he met when she transferred to his high school on the Ramey Air Force Base.
It was love at first sight. Well, almost. In mid-March of his senior year, Arnette was standing by the library when he saw her, and though as he told his friend, “I will be meeting that new girl right away,” he actually met her younger sister, Wendy, first, when he discovered that he was a tutoring assistant for Wendy’s English class and investigated the origins of her and her “beautiful, blonde” sister.
Arnette found out that she was from Mullins, South Carolina, a mere 25 miles from Dillon, and that she was also a teacher’s assistant that period, and even better, she worked in the library. Arnette fumbled out an excuse to his teacher and went straight to the library, where he found her near the back, sorting books. He struck up a conversation using their past in South Carolina, and then asked her out two days later to go see a movie.
And the typical American love story transitioned into their college years, where Arnette as a freshman at Elon college, and Katherine, still a senior in high school, wrote each other letters every single day while they were apart. They will have been married for 41 years this December. They have two daughters together, and three grandchildren, from ages 18 months to 13 years old.
Arnette attended Elon College in Burlington, North Carolina, where he played football and wrestled, and started as a P.E. major before quickly deciding that it wasn’t for him. He then switched to Biology for two years, before he realized that he had difficulty breathing in formaldehyde, which is used in almost all biological fields. He then decided to switch to English for his last year and a half.
He went on to teach at Cal Poly for four and a half years. He taught Freshmen Composition, Critical Thinking, Summer School, and lab classes.
And during those four years, Arnette was tenacious as he worked in King City, teaching English, Journalism, and yearbook before driving home, managing an apartment complex in Paso Robles, then driving to Cal Poly to teach two college classes, four nights a week, before he started it all again the next morning.
Arnette has wanted to teach since he was in the ninth grade, when his English Teacher and football coach, Ted Fitzpatrick, inspired him by inciting a revolution.
“He had a major impact on me. He was the best teacher that I’ve ever had. I knew I wanted to be a teacher, but I didn’t know what I wanted to teach. I knew that I wanted to be like him. I don’t know if I ever reached that goal. I idolized him,” Arnette said.
Fitzpatrick was opposed to the government’s position at the time on Vietnam and threw a chair through a glass window in protest. The school fired Fitzpatrick, which lead to a school wide sit in that Arnette led, followed by a protest that involved taking over the principal’s office, though he relinquished it after Fitzpatrick warned Arnette and the other boys in the room that the principal had called the police.
Arnette started his career at Paso Robles High School in an unexpected way. He applied for an opening for an infamously hard to teach math class called Math B, which was first semester Algebra and first semester Geometry. He had taught math as an independent study director for five years, and he took the opportunity to get into the circle of teachers at Paso High School.
But the following year there were no openings left, so Arnette sold Coca Cola, and U.S. Today magazines around the county to make ends meet for a year before an English position opened up. Arnette applied and was hired a week before school started 20 years ago.
For the first 10 years, Arnette taught regular English, despite Cantrell’s frequent attempts to get him to teach AP and Honors curriculum. With the retirement of Glen Smeltzer, Arnette started teaching Honors English to sophomores, and moved into his room. He did a year with just sophomores, and a year where Cantrell split it with him, before he took on his first AP English senior class.
And after that Arnette’s students have taken him in a similar way to the way that Arnette latched onto his teaching inspiration.
“Arnette is hands down the best teacher I’ve ever had and maybe will have. There is roaring passion and love to be felt by him for his students. I feel so lucky to have been in his class and be his pupil when it came to Poetry Out Loud. He’s one of my biggest role models,” said senior Daniel Tibbits, who had Arnette for English his sophomore year, and was a teacher’s assistant for him his junior year.
And it isn’t just Tibbits that feels this way, “Arnette is a teacher who teaches the most important subject of all; how to be yourself, respect yourself, and think for yourself.” senior Stephen Preston said.