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Gail Lockart

You Can Come Home Again

By Raphael Maurice

“If you really want something, you have to strive for it and keep after it."

Gail Lockart, a dedicated educator and keen observer, has deep roots in Vandalia. She graduated from high school in 1961, and both her brother and sister are also Vandalia Community High School graduates. This place was home and remains so today, but when she does roam, her travels are always centered on learning, education, and philosophical observation rather than thrill-seeking or spectacle. Gail attended Eastern Illinois University, graduating in 1965, and then returned to Vandalia to teach for 28 years. She has spent her life gracefully moving between practice and theory, instructing both young children and college students, and later teaching education majors how to teach.

One of the principles Gail lives by is that it’s never too late to pursue one’s goals. She earned two higher education degrees while being a full-time mom, through hard work and tenacity. Gail notes, “After my second husband passed away, I decided to go back and get my master’s. So I started at SIUE, earned my master’s, and then pursued my doctorate. I still had two kids at home when I started my doctorate. I wanted them to get through school before I left.” She continues, “Then I had an opportunity to move to Eastern. I taught in the Education Department at Eastern, mainly teaching master’s classes to teachers coming back for their master’s. I also taught pre-teachers methods classes, like how to teach reading and social studies. I was there for about fifteen years before retiring in 2009 and coming back to Vandalia.”

From her home here, she reflects on life and the changes she has seen, observing trends in education and within herself. When asked about teaching grade school, Gail notes the challenges and blessings. “I think my limit was probably sixth grade, because sixth-graders are still non-confrontational, pretty easy to manage, and eager to learn. I never taught eighth grade. I think it would be a definite challenge, as well as seventh grade,” she muses. “But I’ve been back in Vandalia for almost three years now, and it’s been a good move.” She feels that Vandalia is a welcoming, wholesome place, a place you can return to in good faith. “I think it’s a farming community, or it has been, and people are just really friendly. You’re welcomed with open arms when you come back. That’s the main thing that drew me back here; I knew that’s how it would be when I returned,” she says.

Having earned her degrees, taught, and raised children of her own, Gail knows a thing or two about the past, the present, and what might lie ahead. “For one thing, when my kids were growing up, life was much simpler. They could roam the town, and we didn’t have to worry about them. It was pre-cellphone, and it was just a safer time. People felt more comfortable letting their kids roam around,” she recalls. “But now I see the misuse of phones and computers in the classroom. Kids come in, supposedly taking notes on their computers, but they may be using them to order something from Amazon or text somebody. It’s become a big problem.” Distractions abound, and they can interfere with what’s right in front of us. Technology, as Aldous Huxley warned, might just be a faster way of going backward. Gail Lockart wouldn’t be opposed to this view. “So many courses are only online now, and to me, the beauty of getting your master’s is interacting with other teachers. You never see the other teachers, you never meet the professor. It’s not good.”

She also sympathizes with the hardships teachers face and can identify many of the problems in that field: “I think teachers have been bombarded with testing. In elementary education, it’s not any fun to teach anymore because you’re controlled by the testing and the state, and I think that’s really kept people from becoming teachers,: she says. “When I started in education, Illinois offered a scholarship for teachers, paying tuition and fees for all four years. You had to promise to teach in Illinois for five years, or pay it back. That was wonderful for me. I don’t know if they offer something like that now, but it would definitely draw more people into teaching.” Gail speaks from a lifetime in education and beyond. With universities losing student populations, she is a testimony to the true blessings of face-to-face learning and earning degrees without the distractions of ubiquitous screens.

We asked her about A.I., a topic on many people’s minds. “I really don’t know too much about it. I remember when I was working on my doctorate, a professor brought up AI, and none of us knew what he was talking about. This was around 1995. Now, we see it kind of taking over. A.I. can even take over my voice,” she marvels. “I think it can be useful, but it could also be harmful. Our nation is in a frantic time now, with students rioting and people coming in to help them riot. It’s a scary time for young people.” But Gail ends on a note of hopefulness, for the kids around her and for the future. While her message isn’t clichéd or candy-coated, it is true: “If you really want something, you have to strive for it and keep after it. It’s a lot of hard work to succeed, whatever path you choose.” Vandalia is fortunate that Gail took the path she did, striving for her goals and once again calling this place “home.”

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