Last week was Teacher Appreciation Week. It was a good time to reflect back on the many people in our lives who taught us and guided us in our development. It’salways good that we take time to do that.
In the first grade, my education officially transferred from my Mother to my first-grade teacher, Mrs. Durr.
Twelve years later, in the mid-60s, Mrs. Carson taught me in her college prep English course at Germantown High School. Her first name was Mildred, but no one dared call her that to her face. It wasn’t that we were afraid of her; we respected her. When her class was in session, she ruled it.
I cannot recall any of the students being disruptive when she was teaching. She was a demanding teacher, and she was very well-respected.
One of her most memorable demands was that her students were to be exposed to all aspects of the English language, both prose and poetry. She wanted us to develop an appreciation for both the written and spoken word.
She even took us back to the earliest uses of written English language by requiring every student to study the prologue to ” The Canterbury Tales.” Making it more difficult for her students, we had to memorize the opening passage in the text and style of Old English.
Geoffrey Chaucer would have been pleased to experience one of Mrs. Carson’s classrooms as we all stood and recited; “Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote, the drought of Marche hath perced to the roote, and bathed every veyne in swich licour of which vertu engendred is the flour.”
Several years ago, I was asked to be the speaker for the class of 1968 graduates, at a Germantown Alumni Association dinner. While reminiscing about our high school years, I mentioned Mrs. Carson and asked everyone in the large dining hall to join me in reciting that passage from “The Canterbury Tales.”
Not surprisingly, except for the few visitors, everyone stood and spontaneously recited that passage in Old English.
Both Mr. Geoffrey Chaucer and Mrs. Mildred Carson would have been pleased.
I’m sure we can all look back at our student years and recall teachers who shaped and molded us into the people we are today. That is why we pause each year to observe Teacher Appreciation Week. Those teachers are absolutely priceless.
Besides Mrs. Carson, we also enjoyed Mr. Robert Coghill. He taught English to the freshmen and sophomores. He was a unique character. He reminded me a lot of Donald Duck’s uncle, Professor Ludwig von Drake — not just in looks — which were remarkable — but also in his unique lecturing style.
When teaching us about verbs, he brought them to life. He spent an entire lecture period talking about an active character he made up named, “Johnny Verb.” Johnny was always active, always moving about. Mr. Coghill made his point about verbs. Obviously, I still remember it.
That seems to be a common trait with excellent teachers. They have the ability to bring their subject to life.
My wife, Debbie, was telling me about one of her favorite teachers, Mr. Gary Kersey, at that time a history teacher at Wilmington Junior High School. He always brought his subject to life. When he would tell a story about Abraham Lincoln, it was as if Kersey had been a witness to the events he was describing from Lincoln’s life.
He was one of the greatest of storytellers. Not only was he a great teacher, but he was also a student. He never stopped studying history.
My son, Josh, told me that one of his favorite teachers was Mr. Don Williams. He also was known for bringing his subject to life. When teaching Ohio history, Mr. Williams would sometimes dress in authentic looking frontier clothing. He would bring in and explain tools that were used by our early settlers.
He was able to draw a contrast between life in the 1800s and life in Wilmington nearly 200 years later.
While talking with family and friends about their favorite teachers, many names were repeated several times. We talked about people like Gary Kersey, Don Williams, Oakie Waddell, Stephen Haines, Becky Van Pelt, Becky Rauch and numerous other teachers and coaches who touched their lives and changed them.
It seems to be a wonderful coincidence that Teacher Appreciation Day ends with Mother’s Day.
My ultimate teacher was my Mom. She taught me life lessons that I have passed on to my children and will continue to pass on my grandchildren. Our mothers will always be our ultimate teachers. Our moms will remain the cornerstones of our development.
God Bless all our mothers and teachers.
Randy Riley is a former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.