Many Grundy County residents will recognize this week’s neighbor as a former teacher and the current principal at Monteagle Elementary School. Janet Layne recently discussed her passion for working in the education field and let us in on her life outside of school.
Janet was born in Whitwell, but was raised in Palmer.
“For most of my young years, I was raised in Palmer. My parents are Peggy Fults Cash and Phillips Fults. I don’t have any brothers or sisters, and I get heckled a lot about being an only child from my close friends.
“I began my school years as a kindergartener at Swiss Memorial in 1972, where I played basketball and cheered for the Wildcats. I have very fond memories of my childhood and elementary school days. I remember playing “jacks” as eighth graders and how competitive the boys were when it came to this game.
“And, I remember playing basketball with Mrs. Doris Burnett in the gym, and even my first paddling in second grade for turning cartwheels while the teacher, Mrs. Suter, was out in the hall. I had about five friends and we used to pretend we were either the Bionic Woman, Wonder Woman, or Charlie’s Angels from TV fame.
“I attended Grundy County High School in Tracy City, and I simply loved high school. I know some people do not miss high school at all, but I had such good times there. I always look forward to my high school reunion to see friends I have not seen in a long time.
“I remember being one of the last freshmen classes to ever endure the “initiation process.” The upper classmen painted us up on our faces, put tails on us to wear, and made us do nerdy stunts. I think I got a small fracture on the bridge of my nose from rolling a coke bottle the full length of the gym on my knees with no hands.
“I was very involved in a lot of the clubs and activities. I especially enjoyed working on the yearbook with Mrs. Wanda Sanders and the journalism crew. I was honored to receive the Girls Sportsmanship Award for playing basketball and cheerleading. I had the privilege of having Ricky Richards as my basketball coach as well as my dad-which got me into trouble at times by making an example of me.”
Janet started working early in life. Her first job was at age 12.
“When I was about 12 years old, I worked for my mom at her clothing store in Gruetli-Laager at The Clothes Peg. I thought this was grand, and I enjoyed going to market in Atlanta getting to see all of the new merchandise.”
After high school graduation, she went to Middle Tennessee State University to study education.
“I attended Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro for four years and studied Elementary Education and graduated in 1989. I really did find my calling to become an educator during this time.
“I spent a lot of time working on lessons for the students at Pittard Campus School, student teaching at Mary Sharp School in Winchester, and enjoyed making some lifelong friends from around the state.
“I felt like I was very prepared for college academics as I left GCHS, but I was not prepared for how homesick I would be. I made the 90 minute trek home every weekend.”
After graduation, Janet went right to work.
“I worked as a cashier during the summer after graduation at Gruetli-Laager Piggly Wiggy. I attended the Church of Christ at Collins and helped with their “Joy Bus” rolling ministry for the youth.
“In 2002, I was employed in the summers as the Tennessee DARE Educator and trained police officers in educational pedagogy as they entered into classrooms to teach the DARE curriculum. I traveled many places and got to experience lots of people during this 3 year period with the Tennessee Highway Patrol.
“I began my career as a teacher at Coalmont Elementary teaching Language Arts for grades five through eight. I also coached the cheerleading squad for the Rebels during this time. I still remember Mr. Taylor Nunley, the janitor, walking those halls making the wooden floors shine with pencil shavings, and he always referred to me as ‘Blondie.’”
“I did summer pre-school screening and instruction for about four summers at North Elementary and had a blast working with the five-year-old students who were to be entering Kindergarten later in the fall. After working at Coalmont, I transferred to Tracy City Elementary and had a very satisfying career teaching the younger children in grades one though three.
“I was fortunate to have a wonderful mentor teacher in Beverly Smith, who is my colleague once again at Monteagle. She introduced me to many unique organizational skills I am still using today.
“While at TCES, I did have the opportunity to get my ‘feet wet’ in administration when I served as the assistant principal when Mrs. Nelda Stiefel, our principal, was absent. Boy, did I learn quickly that administrative decision-making gives you the test first and the lesson last. It did intrigue me and made me begin to think about pursuing a degree that would allow me to dig deeper into the administrative pool.
“In 2002, I got an opportunity I could not pass up. I was approached about becoming the principal at Swiss Memorial, and I was honored to take this leadership role exactly 30 years later at my alma mater where I had started kindergarten in 1972. After a year, I was given a chance to get into upper administration at Grundy County central office as the Instruction and Curriculum Supervisor for grades K-12. This was by far the most challenging job I had ever encountered. I had to wear many hats with this job of three years, but I had an excellent support system.
“I remember Mrs. Phyllis Gulley and I put in lots of long hours in order to get the jobs done, and you just could not beat Mrs. Gulley to pull you out of a deadline pinch.
“This brings me to my current job as the principal at Monteagle Elementary School in Marion County. I have served in this position for eight years and there is never a dull moment. As one little four-year-old preschool child once said, ‘She’s the president and she runs the place.’”
Janet truly appreciates her students and staff who make her job a pleasure.
“It is a challenging job, but I find many rewards in it daily from the children I serve. I am very fortunate to be surrounded with a caring staff who is dedicated to making sure each child experiences some success.
“It does seem as though I have been in several areas across Grundy County and I have made such lasting friendships with staff and parents. My greatest accomplishment is still the legacy I hope to leave behind for my current students as well as those I had many years ago.
In 1991, Janet received her Master’s Degree in Administration and Supervision and in 2007 she earned her Education Specialist degree in Instructional Leadership. This completed her college work for a while, but she still thinks about getting her Doctorate of Education at some point before retiring.
Being a principal carries with it many duties, and Janet wears many hats at Monteagle Elementary School.
“As the principal at MES, I am in charge of so many things, I could not list them all. I oversee the curriculum, serve as test administrator, athletic director, facilities manager, budgeting engineer, mentor for staff, instructional leader, and disciplinarian. I work eight to ten hours per day and often find myself working on some weekends. It is often a demanding job and you need to love it to do it effectively.”
“My favorite thing about my job is getting to talk with the kids ages 4-14 every day. It keep me on my toes and I have to stay on top of the latest trends to “one up” them. I love visiting the classrooms and seeing all of the amazing things the kids are learning and the awesome ideas the teachers are sharing and working on diligently day after day.
“Our little school is very close knit and really does have a welcoming family atmosphere as you step into the door. We try our best to teach kids what they need to succeed academically, but also focus on teaching them what it means to be a good citizen. I try to be actively involved in all aspects of our school environment and have dressed up in crazy costumes, been duct taped to a plywood board, and had pies thrown in my face all for the sake of having fun with the kids or to raise money for the school.
“One particular thing I enjoy doing is having students participate in ‘Lunch with the Principal.’ I really get to know some things about the students I would not normally get to discuss. They seem to enjoy it too and gives them a different perspective about their principal.
Janet met her husband, Russell, over 30 years ago, but they did not go out on a date until 1991.
“We were at a street dance in Monteagle in front of the city hall celebrating the Fourth of July. We had known each other, like I said, for quite some time. I had just finished my last day as a waitress at a restaurant in Kimball and had driven up to see what was going on in town. On that night, he got up the nerve to ask me to dance and he supposedly wanted to teach me a new dance, called the ‘Blue Goose.’ “Well, the rest is history and I later found out there was no such dance as the ‘Blue Goose.’
“We married one year and a half later with a holiday themed wedding in December 1992. We have been married for 22 years.
“One funny story from our wedding was that he did not want to have a glare from his glasses in our wedding pictures, but he wanted to look natural in the photos. He was in a dilemma, what should he do to prevent this? Well, he decided to take the lenses out of his glasses and the pictures turned out beautifully. My mother thought he was crazy at the time. The only problem was, at one point, he got emotional, and he shed a tear; he could actually reach through his glasses to wipe it. A lot of people got a kick out of that. Did I mention he was an engineer? He is based out of Chattanooga, but travels across 24 counties as an engineer with the TDOT Materials and Testing Department.
“Russell is from Pelham and his parents still reside there.”
Janet and Russell have one daughter, Olivia.
“Olivia is 18. She is a senior at Marion County High School. She plans to enter Chattanooga State and study nursing this fall. She always says she spent so much time at school with me, that she should already have earned a degree or two. I taught her to run a copy machine at the age of five, sort and file papers, and use the fax machine before she entered first grade. As a teacher’s kid, then later as a principal’s kid, she often had a tough road to walk, but she endured and I feel she is a stronger person because of it.”
Janet says she loves giving back to her community.
“I am very active in the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, St. Jude Math-a-Thon, and other events that involve the wellbeing of our youth. We always have a big following with our Relay for Life participation as well as Jump Rope for Heart and Caps for Kids with cancer. I serve as one of the mentors for the TN Promise campaign for the Drive for 55 initiative, allowing seniors to attend community colleges without costs. I work very closely with the Rotary Club and the Chamber of Commerce in Monteagle. We also have participated in partnerships with the Lion’s Club, University of the South, 4-H Extension Office, and several local businesses.”
Does this leave her any free time? She says she does not have much time away from school, but when she does, she spends time with her family.
“I like to spend it with my family doing fun things. I enjoy playing cards, traveling, playing games on the Internet, going shopping with my mom and daughter, watching Sci-Fi movies, and reading books about new things. I also enjoy watching the cooking channels and seeing all of the foods being prepared, even though I am not much of a cook. I always enjoy taking a summer vacation with my family.”
Grundy County is one of favorite places. She loves the people and likes to spend time outdoors, enjoying the local beauty.
“Some of my favorite things about Grundy County are the people who live here. I think we are some of the most friendly people anyone will ever encounter. We have some beautiful places to visit around the Cumberland Plateau. I have enjoyed many hikes around the trails at Savage Gulf and Stone Door. I have ridden bicycles around the Tracy Lakes and swam at a lot of the area swimming holes.
“I always enjoyed going to the Grundy County Fair, and was sad when it was announced it would no longer be made available. I remember my daddy getting me up at 4 a.m. in the morning and taking me trout fishing at Elk Head river and baiting hooks with red worms and corn. We would catch our limit by 7 a.m. and often would eat some crackers and Vienna sausages with a Coca Cola. Sometimes, I would eat the peanuts in a coke and it took me the longest time to figure out how to eat and drink this snack at the same time without the coke fizzing up into my nose and getting strangled.”
Janet says she has had the good fortune of having excellent role models in bother her professional personal lives.
“I have had several role models in my professional life, but the person I admire a lot is my dad. He has mentored me in so many ways. He served as my ball coach, my father, and now my friend.
“He was always fair and firm and reminded me that every coin has two sides and you must always look at the whole story or person before passing judgment. I try to live by this saying, especially in my occupation. I guess you could say I have always been a ‘Daddy’s Girl.’
“When I first started teaching, I was worried about having to discipline the bigger kids in older grades, and I was fresh out of college with no clue how to be a stern disciplinarian. This was back in the days when we used to paddle more frequently than we do today. Daddy counseled me on ways of handling the kids by ways of talking to them and getting on their level, but reminded me to get the upper hand quickly and if I wanted their respect, it would have to be earned. He carved me out a paddle made of poplar and said, ‘Be sure to use caution if you have to resort to this, but do not make a joke out of it by swinging like a wash woman, causing little or no effect on the behavior and being the laughing stock with the kids in the hallways.’ So, I worried and fretted over how to do it correctly. Finally, he strapped a pillow on his hind side and I practiced until I got a firm twist in my wrist and gave him a good paddling at last.
“I guess you could say he was really dedicated in wanting me to succeed in the area of discipline if I ever had to use it. He was a teacher himself at GCHS for many years in the metal shop and taught a lot of guys and girls to do some fine welding. People still come up and ask me about him today and share a memory from metals class when they had him. I will always admire my dad and the role model he has been to me.”
Janet says that one thing that may surprise people about her is that she has been hypnotized.
“I did not do anything crazy, but did make a lot of people laugh at a comedy show once upon a time. I love to sing Karaoke and I have always wanted to learn how to ballroom dance. At some point, I would like to skydive, but I would not be able to tell my mom in this lifetime.”