School Teachers and School Days
Published 5:11 pm Wednesday, November 13, 2002
By By Lloyd Albritton
Many people achieve fame in life, with thousands, perhaps even millions, of acolytes who admire and adore them. But, of course, these throngs of fans don't really know the famous person at all. For example, as much as I loved Elvis as a fan, I never met him; he did not know me, and we had absolutely no impact on one another's lives. In reality, no matter how famous one may become, it is only those whose lives we personally touch and interact with, and whose lives touch ours, who really matter. There are few professions which touch and influence so many lives in a personal way as that of a school teacher.
Just as everybody tends to think of their own kinfolk as special, most people's former school teachers are a heap the special to them too. But, notwithstanding everybody else's opinion, my generation of post World War II baby-boomers have always thought of ourselves as an especially special generation. To us, everything and everybody associated with our personal history is more specialer than every other generation that ever has been or ever will be. Consequently, our school days during the 1950's and 1960's, and the teachers who taught us in those "good old days," are incomparably special too-at least to us they are.
We danced around the flagpole on May Day to the folksy tunes of Burl Ives. We lay on the school playground at recess on balmy spring days and fished for crawdads with pine straws baited with a little spit. We played Dodge Ball and Hide-'n-Seek and our teachers did not fret over us or worry about us getting hurt or kidnaped by adult perverts hiding in the bushes. Fist fights and wresting matches between boys were normal and accepted play activities and we did not get suspended from school for it. We got paddled for misbehaving and it did not affect our self-esteem. We had healthy school lunches every day-with milk, not coke. If our parents could not afford the school lunch, we brought a sandwich from home, for this was still before the days of the free lunch. One of my favorite home lunches was a cold biscuit with lima beans or bacon in the middle. We had winners and losers in those days and we grew up believing that winning is more rewarding than losing-and preferable too. We read books for the pure joy and fun of it, not because the state had mandated more reading. We learned to love books and reading because our elementary school teachers took the time to read to us in class, and their excellent reading skills made the stories come alive. Ten-cent comic books were still common then and nothing got me so excited as spending the night with a buddy who had stacks and stacks of comic books underneath his bed. In fact, I believe my personal love for reading today stems mostly from my early enjoyment of comic books. So, I ask you: How could school days be any more specialer than that?
Oh, you don't think so? You think your school days were just as swell? Well, ok then, let me just tell you about some of our teachers. My mother always told me that it was my First Grade teacher, Mrs. Bradley, who broke me from being tongue-tied. Mrs. Bradley was nice, but she used to correct students by whacking them over the head with her pencil. I still have a bump on my head that I think is from Mrs. Bradley's pencil, but I can pronounce my words real good. Mrs. McGill, my Second Grade Teacher, put students in "The Dog House" for misbehaving. The Dog House was underneath her desk. And no, I never even thought about looking up her dress! Mrs. McGill punished especially truant students by spanking the backside of their hand with hers. It hurt, but mostly it hurt our feelings. Mrs. Copeland made us walk with a book on top of our heads to teach us good posture. I thought she was cheating in her demonstration though, because Mrs. Copeland wore a tight perm in her hair that was perfectly flat on top.. Mr. Horton, my Sixth Grade Teacher, would let a lizard bite and hang from his ear. Mr. Horton was from Mississippi and he knew lots of fascinating tricks and stories. "Have you ever heard a dolla' holla'?" he would say. Then, he would fold a dollar bill in half and blow into it to make it scream. Mr. Horton was so cool!
In Junior High School, Mr. Wayne McKay made a game out of paddling the boys. He carried his "Board of Education" with him at all times and used it whenever he felt like it without having to file a disciplinary report. All the students loved Mr. McKay and I never knew a teacher who enjoyed his students more. Sometimes boys would skip class and go swimming at the creek down behind the schoolhouse, and would hide out about the gym waiting to sneak aboard the school buses when they arrived in the afternoon for the trip home. Mr. McKay's brother, Mr. James McKay, secretly called "Bulldog" by students, was the Assistant Principal and chief disciplinarian and he would often stalk about the campus searching for truant boys in hiding. Sometimes his brother knew where the boys were hiding, but did not tell. Bulldog once caught Teddy Toop, a big boy weighing over 200 pounds, hiding in a wall locker. Teddy had to be practically pried out of the locker for his paddling.
School days in the 1950's and 1960's were a period of transition, a time when the education system in this country was rapidly changing and modernizing from the informal country schools preceding World War II. It was a time when school systems were just beginning to require teachers to have college degrees. Teachers then were respected and held in high esteem by community members and parents, many of whom had not graduated from high school, much less college. Teachers were given great trust and autonomy in their duties in those days and most teachers embraced and discharged that responsibility with great dignity. Teachers always looked like teachers in those days, and acted like teachers. Teachers then, and those who administered the education system as well, were much more stern in many ways than teachers today are allowed to be, but in other respects they were far more lenient, most of them holding the view that "kids will be kids." Many of the pranks and shenanigans of students then were quickly punished and dismissed as routine, while the same behavior today is often subjected to great scrutiny, anxious bureaucratic reaction and severe penalties.
As we baby-boomers today approach the south side of sixty, most of our former teachers are now retired or deceased. Our own children have now finished with their school days and we are seeing our grandchildren go off to school each day. I have no doubt that most school teachers today are every bit as dedicated and qualified as the teachers of my generation. In fact, teachers today deal with many issues and problems that were non-existent in former generations. Further, the work of today's teachers is greatly impeded by a huge political agenda and the selfish interests of politicians and bureaucrats who don't possess the interest, the aptitude or the knowledge to teach a mule to plow, much less a child to read. I applaud the teachers of today who struggle on in the face of such adversity and intend them no disrespect by offering homage to my own teachers of yesteryear.
Still, I believe the school days of the 1950's and the 1960's, the school days of my generation, and the wonderful teachers who were such an important part of our lives, are the best there ever was and the best there ever will be. We have witnessed more modernization and technological change during the past fifty years than has occurred in any other period in history, perhaps more than has occurred in all of history combined. Thanks to the great school teachers of our youth, our generation was prepared for it and we have survived and prospered. And on top of that, we had a lot of fun doing it. I say All Hail to all teachers, but especially to those of my generation. They were the most specialest of all!
Lloyd Albritton publishes a series of commentaries on the Internet entitled The Albritton Letters at www.Lloyd-Albritton.com. He can be contacted at LloydAlbritton@aol.com.