Half-century of teaching

Cheering goodbyes for popular Akins, capping 50-year career with final 17 at Concord Christian

  • Jim Akins, now retired Concord Christian School fifth-grade teacher, greeted students, parents and other well-wishers during his “Final Car-Line Salute” Wednesday, May 20. - Michelle Hollenhead

  • Trent Gibbs was among the well-wishers for the retiring Akins after 50 years as a teacher, the final 17 at CCS, during the May 20 salute. - Michelle Hollenhead

  • Helping honor Jim Akins with a “Final Car-Line Salute” Wednesday, May 20, are Concord Christian School teachers and administrators, from left, fifth-grade teachers Angela Thaller and Debra Pedicord; kindergarten-through-8th-grade principal Leigh Ledet; and fifth-grade teacher Dawn McGuire. Akins retired last week after 50 years in the teaching profession, his final 17 at CCS. - Michelle Hollenhead

  • Melanie Smith and her daughter, Brooklyn, were lined up and ready to say one last goodbye to Akins, who retired Friday, May 22. - Michelle Hollenhead

Concord Christian School fifth-grade teacher Jim Akins directed car-line traffic throughout the 17 years he spent at the school, so it was only fitting that a “Final Car-Line Salute” honored him as he retired last week following 50 years in the profession he described as “a calling.”

“Every single day he came to the lot and directed the traffic through,” said Stephanie Mason, marketing director for CCS. “This just seemed like the perfect way to say goodbye.”

Akins wholeheartedly agreed.

“I loved it,” he said. “I always directed traffic, and because of COVID-19, we couldn’t have all gotten together.

“I thought it was much better, the way they did it, and it was an awesome thing they did,” Akins added.

The salute was a surprise to Akins, who was greeted by dozens of cars filled with current and former students, parents and well-wishers, many of whom began lining up more than an hour ahead of his arrival. Many decorated their cars with posters and balloons, saluting not only Akins and his five decades of teaching, but also his life-long love for the University of Tennessee, his alma mater.

“One family who came through (the line) was originally from Georgia, and they continued to be Georgia fans, even after they moved up here,” Akins said. “I always kidded them about that, but when they came through, they decorated their car with UT colors just for me.

“What a tribute that was.”

Akins also was presented with many gifts. A fellow teacher quickly rolled out a cart to gather the overflow.

“He was really an inspiration to us all,” said Melanie Smith, who teaches in the CCS preschool and whose children, Jackson and Kaylee were taught by Akins. “He was always smiling and encouraging. We were hoping that (youngest daughter) Brooklyn would get to have him, but it just wasn’t meant to be.”

Akins was honored in other ways for his milestone achievement, from being singled out during CCS’s graduation ceremonies Saturday, May 16, to being the guest of honor during a faculty send-off following the Car-Line Salute.

At CCS, he capped a career that began in Loudon County, where he was born and raised and where he still lives today with his wife, Sally Akins, to whom he has been married nearly 41 years.

Akins said simply that “God called me to be a teacher,” although a poor upbringing initially pushed him to “want to make lots of money.”

He studied engineering at UT, but during the summer between his freshman and sophomore year, Akins taught a Vacation Bible School class, which changed his life and career path.

“God worked on my heart that summer, and I changed my major to education, ” he said. “The longer I taught, the more I could see how God worked in my life to place me where He wanted me, and I am so thankful for that.”

He taught in Loudon County Schools, primarily at Fort Loudoun Middle School, where he taught then served in administrative roles, including as principal for 12 years. He retired after 34 years there, then came to CCS in 2002 when he “felt God had something more for me.”

“Mr. Akins has made an eternal impact on countless children and families,” said Dawn McGuire, fellow CCS instructor. “He would gently pat their back every time they entered and left his classroom while commenting on their smile or hair bow, letting them know that they were seen and loved.”

“One of my favorite things has always been recess,” he said. “I always played with my kids, and liked to joke I was ‘the best quarterback in the fifth grade.’ I refereed their football games and kickball games, and was the pitcher for kickball, too.

“A lot of the kids liked that, but I enjoyed it so much, too. It was my way of getting to know the kids, and spend more time with them.”

He said he is looking forward to spending time with Sally during retirement, and they have some travelling planned. The retiree also enjoys antiques, and has a booth at the Shoppes at Loudon County, so he plans to work there a few times a week.

With Jim and Sally having attended First Baptist Concord in the years since he began teaching at CCS, “It was where my heart and my work was, so it made sense to go to church there,” he said.

“I’ve had a lot of students and their parents tell me they are looking forward to seeing me there.”