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Honoring local educators

By REV. ROD SMITH - For The Courier-Times

Mrs. Hunt was my first-grade teacher. She tried to teach me how to tie my shoes but settled for showing me how to tell which shoe went on which foot. Her husband played the bagpipes. He’d line up the whole school at one end of the field and we’d march behind him like an army until we reached the banks of the school field to sit and watch older children do the egg-and-spoon race.

Grade 2? Mrs. Davies. Her family owned the dairy. Then came Mrs. Bradman. She kept her parrot in the classroom. Mrs. Walsh made liars stay after school. Mrs. Nel, I am sure was sometimes inebriated. She often got sent home to “rest.” Mrs. Hornsby had horns that loomed from her forehead. She spent my fifth-grade terrorizing me. Mr. Lendrum loved soccer. I know he taught history in the mornings only because he loved coaching soccer in the afternoons. At the end of games, he lifted boys who’d fluffed a good shot at goal onto his shoulders and carried them off the field as if they were superstars.

I know. He carried me off the field a time or two.

Mr. Hockey taught more than geography and geomorphology at high school. He taught that schools are more than bricks and mortar, that people had feelings and that a little respect goes a long way. Mr. Morey, my English teacher for three years in a row said that splitting infinitives, ending sentences with prepositions were as near to criminal acts as was using “I” when it should be “me.” He made me recite the Latin idiom on my school badge and said I might one day understand the meaning of “let every person unto himself be true.”

Richard Morey frequently debated whether King Lear was “a man more sinned against than sinning” and argued about which of Lear’s daughters was the more evil. One week the title would go to Goneril. The next week, Regan. I did think it a little odd that poetry could make a grown man cry, that reciting any of Lady Macbeth’s speeches could make him visibly angry. He talked of people he’d met in books as if they were real.

That’s an odd thing to observe when you’re 15.

Mr. Graham knew I stuttered. He knew I could hardly put two words together while standing in front of the class but this did not stop him from summoning me to call the roll and to read aloud and to tell the whole class about my weekend. I bet he still has no idea that I’d endured sleepless nights knowing that he’d call me up to the front of the class to give a speech. He did it relentlessly because he knew I stuttered. He believed placing me in the spotlight would somehow cure my stuttering.

He was wrong. Perhaps I should tell him. We are still in touch.

Hans Menk taught us music. He began every lesson with the question, “What are the five major forms of art?” with the tone of an army general. Together we had to stand at our desks and recite “music, painting, writing, sculpture and dance” and if we could do this flawlessly he’d affirm that we were indeed a privileged lot with little understanding of the remarkable opportunities that stood wide and open before us.

I considered it, even at 14, somewhat ironic that “music” was taught in a room with no piano, guitar or any instrument of any kind and that we never listened to anything, sung anything and nor did anyone bring anything musical ever into the room. It apparently never dawned on Mr. Menk or the school system that teaching music might involve the production of a sound or two. The only music was the droning of Hans Menk who sat behind his desk talking about the many opportunities we’d all miss if we did not get our sorry little bodies into action to do something worthwhile.

It has been 30-plus years since I completed school. Apart from Mr. Hockey’s semester on “Rice in Japan” and that Mr. Morey made me write one thousand words of “composition” every week, all my memories pertain to the kind of human beings my teachers were. I remember who was happy, depressed; I knew the difference from those who looked like they were glad to be teachers from those who needed a job. These were my teachers – men and women – who for good, for ill, but seldom with feelings of indifference, hang upon my private, seemingly eternal, internal wall of fame.

Honoring local teachers, coaches

This week at the 10:30 a.m. worship service at First Presbyterian Church, 1202 Church St., New Castle, we will be honoring the fine army of public school educators and coaches who serve our children. Join us, please. Especially if you were, or are, in education, or if you too have an internal wall of fame of women and men who were your teachers.

Rev. Rod Smith is pastor at First Presbyterian Church in New Castle. He is also a regular contributor to The Courier-Times.