The California Education Code sets aside the second Wednesday in May – this year, May 14 – as the Day of the Teacher. State, county and district boards of education will pass resolutions honoring teachers. The California Retired Teachers Association Division No. 24 will celebrate the Day of the Teacher by visiting 116 schools in Solano County, leaving notes and candy to show appreciation for all that teachers do.
History has it that Mattye Whyte, an Arkansas teacher, began corresponding with politicians and education leaders as early as 1944 about the need for a national day for teachers. It is also said that her correspondence with Eleanor Roosevelt led to the persuasion of the 81st Congress to proclaim a National Teacher Day in 1953.
Few other professionals touch so many people in such a lasting way as teachers do. Most of us remember a special teacher who made a difference in our lives. How could I ever forget Curtis Stanley back in Cookeville, Tenn., my teacher and high school principal, who encouraged me to find creative solutions to problems and to find a way, which seemed impossible at the time, to go to college?
I recently attended an event in Vacaville and had an opportunity to speak to a few educators from the Fairfield-Suisun School District about memories of teachers who made a difference in their lives.
Retired Fairfield-Suisun School District Principal Bob Perkins said that though he’s been retired for 10 years and his memory has dulled a bit, still some of his school memories seem like they happened only yesterday. He recalled junior high school as being a very interesting time. He especially remembered that in junior high some of his substitute teachers played professional football for the Los Angeles Rams.
“I guess football didn’t pay that much back in the late ’50s and they had to substitute teach to make ends meet,” Perkins said.
His most memorable teacher was Gary Jones, his high school science teacher and basketball coach.
“He had this uncanny ability to make you believe in yourself and always had time to talk to you and when he did, he made you feel like you were the most important person in his life,” Perkins said.
On the basketball court, Jones was a combination of Mr. Rodgers and a psychotic madman, Perkins said.
“I will always be indebted to him for the example he set,” Perkins said. “Much of my success as a teacher and a principal is because of the example Mr. Gary Jones set for me 51 years ago.”
Perkins noted that Jones was also his unofficial counselor and his first mentor.
“I’ll always be indebted to him for what he was and what he did,” Perkins said.
Christine Straub, resource specialist for the Fairfield-Suisun School District, said Edith Kroner, her teacher at St. Dominic’s in Benicia, would always be her favorite teacher.
“She always had a smile and would always find ways to help a student succeed,” Straub said.
Kroner, like others, needed extra patience with her, Straub said, but Kroner managed to find a way that changed Straub’s life.
After all these years, her former teacher is still in her life. When Straub came back from college, she visited her classroom and was introduced to the class. When she told her teacher that she, too, had become a teacher, Kroner looked so proud, Straub said.
“It was a memorable moment,” Straub said.
Retired Fairfield High School Junior ROTC instructor John Alexander said that his most memorable teacher was Mrs. Aaron, his ninth-grade English teacher at Paul L. Dunbar High School in Washington, La. He lived with his grandparents on a farm, started the school year late and always had a habit of sitting in the back of the classroom.
One day, his teacher said to him in front of the entire class that in the real world, people spoke and wrote in real English, not the Creole that he learned from his grandparents. His teacher moved him to the front of the classroom for the remainder of the school year.
“Today, I’m grateful for that personal touch from a teacher,” Alexander said.
To paraphrase Henry Brooks Adams, great-grandson of President John Adams, grandson of President John Quincy Adams and a historian, journalist, novelist and educator in his own right in the late 19th and early 20th centuries: “A teacher affects humanity, and one can never tell where that influence stops.”
Mayrene Bates is a trustee on the Solano County Board of Education. Reach her at Mbates34@aol.com.