Archive for Thursday, May 7, 2009

Teachers everywhere, please, stand up and take a bow

May 7, 2009

One of my earliest memories is of a petite woman with sleekly groomed dark hair listening to me attempt to read.

Her name was Lila Palmer, and she was my first and second grade teacher in the one-room country school house I attended. The school house was a primitive business with no running water, no indoor bathrooms and no lunchroom. It didn’t have many students, either. Mostly there were my two ornery cousins, the daughter of the man who worked for my father and after a year, my sister.

The oldest girl at the school was named Rosemary. She was always scrubbed neat and clean and looked askance at the younger ruffians who surrounded her. She was always kind to me, though, and often helped me with craft projects. My cousins just teased and hooted at anything I did that they considered “uncool,” although they didn’t use that terminology in those days. It didn’t matter what they did to me. I thought they were the best looking, wittiest guys around. They were the only boys near my age with whom I talked.

I went to a country school called Dermot District No. 6. It was established in 1887 and was in continuous use until it was disbanded in 1952. The children in that district then rode a bus into town and back. It wasn’t a large bus, but was a van-type because there weren’t many children to transport from our area. I loved going to school. I loved learning how to read, although my mother had taught us the fundamentals at home. My favorite time of the day was when Mrs. Palmer had us put away our books and read a story to all of us. That was a magical time when we were transported into the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder or another beloved character.

I attribute my study and school habits to that early beginning with a woman who must have been lonely out there on the plains with no other teachers or colleagues. She always encouraged me to do my best and gave me praise when I came through. She set me on a path of loving to learn, even though she only had primitive tools to carry out her mission.

Of course, there were other good teachers who came into my life and guided me. They made my life much richer. My high school teachers were remarkable. My math teacher, Ida Smith, taught me to break the most complex problems into steps. She maintained a strict discipline without ever having to raise her voice, but her students revered her. My science teacher, Bill Hetzer, encouraged my parents to send me to science camp at his alma mater, the University of Kansas. Years later, I encountered one of his professors and was startled to learn that his nickname was “Wild Bill.”

My high school English teachers encouraged me to do my best in the world outside my home town as well as in my school. The remarkable thing about their efforts was that they tried to do their best for all the students in their classes. And that is the mark of a fine teacher.

As this school year comes to a close, I think teachers everywhere should stand up and take a bow. They are the keepers of our nation’s and our world’s future. They deserve all the accolades they can receive.

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