Wednesday, February 09, 2011
Their lessons live on
(The following is my column for the Newton County News and KY3/KSPR.)
As hard as it is for me to believe it, in a few weeks, it will be 30 years since my first experience as a classroom teacher.
I had been through all the required education classes at Missouri Southern State College, had spent one day a week during the fall semester observing a burned out teacher at Webb City High School, and watched my supervising teacher at Diamond Junior High, Randy Switzer, teach for a week, but then that inevitable moment came and I was the one standing in front of the classroom.
For a day or two, Mr. Switzer stayed with me, and then I was on my own.
And as any teacher can tell you, there was nothing in any of our college classes that prepared us for that first moment when a student decided it was time to challenge our authority.
We learn how to make lesson plans; we learn about the psychology of students, we learn everything except the practical day-to-day things that a teacher has to know to survive in the classroom.
For that, I relied on two things, instinct and the teachers who instilled the love of learning in me when I attended East Newton.
Randy Switzer had left me with a solid foundation for my seventh and eighth grade history classes and ninth grade government class. Adding to that, I tried to emulate the qualities of my favorite teachers.
I attacked classes with the enthusiasm of my high school speech and drama teacher, Mrs. Janice Matthews. Like my world history and comparative political systems teacher, Mr. Charles Goade, I did my best to treat my students like adults instead of kids.
Though there was never any chance that I would reach those lofty heights, I worked to know my material as well as Mr. Bill Keith, my physical science teacher.
I worked to get my students as involved in my class as I was in the class of my sixth grade teacher and seventh grade English teacher Mrs. Jean Rowe.
Mix in a little of the caring that those teachers showed with that provided to me by my elementary teachers, Mrs. Minnie Weems, who provided me with an excellent start to my schooling as my first and second grade teacher, Mrs. Nettie Cummins, Mrs. Sue Cole, and Mrs. Irene Relf, as well as Mrs. Rowe.
And heaven help me, I even gave a few 1,000 word punishments like Mr. Burney Johnson, who I was fortunate to have as teacher for my ninth grade citizenship class and two years of Spanish (and who gave me plenty of those 1,000 word assignments).
With the memories of those wonderful teachers fresh in my mind (even as they are 30 years later), I never felt alone in a classroom.
It took me another 18 years before I went into teaching on a full-time basis and by then, education had changed. Mimeograph machines and blackboards are no longer staples at schools and paper gradebooks are just a distant memory.
Computers, whiteboards, and Smartboards are in our classrooms, but despite all of those changes, the basics of education remain the same.
The key to a good education is good teachers. Teachers like Janice Matthews, Charles Goade, Bill Keith, Jean Rowe, Burney Johnson, and all of the others I mentioned would excel in today’s environment just as they did in the time when they were unfortunate enough to have me in their classroom.
I am certain that those wonderful teachers also had teachers who inspired them and made them want to share their gifts with thousands of students.
And some day, who knows, maybe, just maybe, if I am doing something right, someone will step into a classroom and remember something that I did and use that to work with yet another generation of students.
(Photos: top Janice Matthews Johnson today, Burney Johnson, bottom, Bill Keith)