A Wylie graduate is among the finalists for the 2017 Texas Teacher of the Year Award from the Texas Association of School Administrators.
Master Chief Calvin Lambert, a 1967 Wylie graduate, Vietnam War veteran and current ROTC instructor at Uvalde High School, is one of only six teachers in the state of Texas to advance to the state level in the competition.
“It’s beyond me,” Lambert said of earning the nomination. “What an honor. It’s overwhelming.”
Each of the state’s school districts can submit nominees to their respective regional Education Service Center, and the state’s 20 Education Service Centers must then chose one elementary teacher and one secondary teacher to nominate for the state award.
A panel of judges takes the 40 nominees from the service centers and chooses three secondary teachers and three elementary teachers as finalists. Lambert made that cut.
At an awards ceremony on Oct. 14 in Austin, the state will name one Elementary Teacher of the Year and one Secondary Teacher of the Year and will designate one to represent Texas in the National Teacher of the Year program.
Lambert is thought to be the first ROTC teacher to ever be one of the final six nominees.
Calvin Lambert grew up the oldest of seven children and transferred to Wylie for the start of high school because he liked the atmosphere. Four of his siblings did the same thing.
He was very active in the Wylie band.
“I was the drum major my sophomore, junior and senior year,” he said. “I liked being at Wylie because it was small. I didn’t want to go to Cooper.”
When he graduated, he went to Cisco Junior College on a music scholarship, but the Vietnam War had begun, and Lambert decided to join the Navy. His father had served in the Navy in World War II.
“I always wanted to join the Navy,” he said. “I didn’t want to get drafted into the Army. I didn’t want to go to Vietnam.”
But after a year aboard a destroyer, he changed his mind and volunteered for Vietnam.
“I just wanted to,” he said. “Your views about things change. I wanted to do my part. On the ship I was on, we weren’t doing anything.”
So Lambert was sent to Vietnam, where he was on the River Patrol Force.
“That’s combat duty,” he said. “It wasn’t a lot of fun. When you are a kid, cowboys and Indians and war games are fun. I found out real quick it was not a game. It was a rude awakening. You learn a lot about how valuable life really is. Then it became counting the days until I could go home.”
After a year, he returned to Abilene and married a Cooper graduate, Linda Landers, who he met at his church, Edgemont Drive Baptist Church.
In 1972, his first child was born, and he decided to get out of that Navy. But after only six months of civilian life, he decided to re-enlist.
“I made more money not being in the Navy, but I just liked the Navy a lot better,” he said. “I had 10 times the amount of responsibility in the Navy That’s what I wanted to do.”
He ended up staying in the Navy for 26 years before retiring in 1993.
In 1978, a senior instructor gave him some advice that changed his life.
“He had been an ROTC instructor,” Lambert said. “He told me when you retire, this is what you’ve got to do. You get to mold these kids and teach them. You get to mold them into the future of our country, and you get to talk to them about the Navy every day, and you get paid for it. What a steal. I decided that’s what I wanted to do when I retire. He is the one that inspired me.”
So Lambert went to school in the evenings and on weekends to get a degree in vocational education.
Over the years, he moved all over the country, held a variety of positions and continued to get promotions. He taught at recruiting schools, spent time away on boats and even headed up a detachment during Operation Desert Storm.
But in 1993, he knew it was time to retire and start his goal of teaching ROTC.
“The Navy was going to expand the ROTC program, and Texas was going to get a lot of units,” he said.
Lambert taught ROTC at several schools before going to Uvalde, where he has been for the last 17 years.
Teaching ROTC has been even better than his mentor had described it.
“I like it even better than I thought I would,” he said. “What I like about it is what walks through my door every day and walks out every day. It’s about building positive relationships. I love what I do.”
Lambert said his students come from all walks of life.
“You put them all together and teach them to work as a team,” he said. “Some of them will tell you that without this program they would not graduate from school. They don’t view this a s a class, they view it as a family.”
One student wrote on an end of year survey: “When I have a bad morning at home, I know that I can come to ROTC and Master Chief will make it better.”
Another wrote: “I’m a better person than I used to be.”
Lambert’s wife passed away in 2009 after 38 years of marriage. They had two children Michael and Wendy, and Wendy now coaches in Uvalde. Lambert has remarried and also has two stepchildren working at the school. Between the two of them, Lambert and his wife Rachel have 11 grandchildren.
Lambert knows that retirement from teaching is coming but he loves what he is doing too much to stop just yet.
“This is my 49th year to be wearing this uniform,” he said. “I love the Navy –always have.”