It’s school time again. You can’t avoid knowing that fact because of all the Walmart aisles crowded with school supplies for sale. (I don’t think we had to have a fraction of that stuff back in the days when I was a student!) But this time of year always brings back a lot of memories for me.
This week’s activities provided the initial spark for my memory machine. My wife began in-service training this week at the school where she teaches. As always, however, she actually had been working in her classroom all last week. She is ready for the end of school every May, but throughout the summer “vacation” she’s still thinking about school, and by the first of August, she’s champing at the bit to get back into her classroom.
I participated in a different school’s in-service training. Unlike my wife, however, I was on the other side of the podium, presenting three sessions of instruction designed to inspire and motivate. Although I’m not in the classroom now, my heart is still there, and sometimes I get a little nostalgic for the classroom. A little.
As much as I enjoyed sharing with the faculty members in the in-service sessions I conducted, I was somewhat intimidated by my audience, whose experience levels ranged from first-year teachers to 20- to 40-year veterans. I felt as though those veterans could have taught me more than I taught them.
But at the beginning of this blog post, I said something about memories. I’ve already written about some of my elementary school teachers in earlier blog posts and in my book Look Unto the Hills (https://www.amazon.com/Look-Unto-Hills-Stories-Tennessee/dp/1975798899). This time, I’d like to mention some of my teachers from the middle and upper grades.
Gladys Rogers, seventh-grade English. She was without doubt the sourest teacher I had. I never recall seeing her smile. Her gray hair was pulled up in a bun so tightly on top of her head that I think it pulled all smile from her face. She was a stern disciplinarian, and I feared her. But could she ever teach grammar! She gave me a solid foundation that helped me the rest of the way through high school and college. Her teaching gave me the tools I needed to learn how to write, so I guess I should credit her for what success I’ve enjoyed in my published articles and books.
Richard Booher, seventh-grade world geography. He had a hot temper that erupted whenever any student deliberately disobeyed or consistently disrupted class or failed to pay attention. Since I was a shy wall flower, I never faced his wrath, but he made geography enjoyable for me and gave me a solid foundation in a subject that is essential to an understanding of history.
Building on that geographic foundation, Paul Williams taught me U.S. Geography in ninth grade. I recall only one specific requirement from that course–memorizing the states and their capitals–but Mr. Williams had real class, and I respected that. He was tall, thin, and athletic (he was also a coach). He was always dressed and groomed immaculately. In contrast to other teachers, I never recall hearing him raise his voice in class, but neither did I ever sense that he was not in complete control of his classroom. When I was an education major in college and had to do observations over a Christmas break, I again sat in Mr. Williams’s class.
Hubert Lakin, tenth-grade World History. He was the brother of my elementary school principal and a veteran of many years in the classroom. He exuded a quiet confidence and integrity. He also demonstrated great courage of conviction. In the years following the SCOTUS ruling in Murray v. Curlett, which involved atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair and resulted in the removal of prayer and Bible reading from public schools, Mr. Lakin continued to include the Bible’s historical record in his teaching. For example, he had several of us read selected Scripture passages aloud in class (e.g., the Creation account, the Flood account, and the account of the Tower of Babel). He was not intimidated by an inane court ruling.
I also recall an interesting quirk of Mr. Lakin. He often sat in a chair behind his desk to lecture, and he tended to look out the window, lost in the historical record he was reciting, as he did so. Suddenly, he would leap up from his chair and begin pacing up and down the aisles between the student desks, never missing a beat in his lecture. It certainly kept us awake and alert, not that I ever had any trouble staying awake in a history class.
There were also other teachers, of course. For example, Miss Bare, the typing teacher, who rapped my hands with her ever-present wooden ruler if I allowed my wrists to rest on the typing table rather than keeping them straight and rigid. She also whacked my thighs with it if I sat with my feet under my chair rather than flat on the floor. (I still flinch whenever I’m typing and suddenly realize that I’ve unconsciously allowed my feet to slip under my chair!)
And there were the two track coaches I had during my two-year stint on the track team. They guided me to an eventual letter, along with my teammates on the two-mile-relay team: Johnny Hamel (kneeling), David Hansard (left), and Dale Wayland (not pictured in the accompanying photo). That’s me on the right.
Yes, the beginning of a new school year brings back such memories. I’m grateful for what each teacher contributed to my life. Sometimes it was “little” things; some of them played more significant roles. But they all contributed. Even those who weren’t very good exemplars unwittingly contributed to my own future in education by teaching me how not to teach.
Which teachers do you most remember from your educational past? What other memories does a new school year bring to your mind?