organized an effort to interview a few of my former students who had been in my classroom
some 35 to 49 years ago. (1957 to 1971) The interviews were another great learning
experience for me and I present some of their perceptions. The interviews became so
valuable I enlarged my sample and took the time to find over a hundred former students. I relate as many of the stories I feel are relevant. I tried to tap the memories of the poor students as well as the excellent students.
Students were promised confidentiality, although those who attended school at the same
time may recognize some of those who offered interviews. A few students preferred to write
their experiences, and some of those are also included. All students’ names in the book have been changed.
Coming from Both Sides
Bett’s mother was a staunch Republican and her father a leader in the Democratic party. She brought both opinions to class. She was a young lady with very strong opinions. If she disagreed with me, she let me know in no uncertain terms. She was the head cheerleader and enjoyed organizing assemblies and leading cheers. She was good at it!
“I was bothered with your discussion against separate but equal and I went to another teacher on the faculty and he helped me with a scripture to satisfy my mind. You were not just a liberal, you taught the difference between being liberal and conservative. I remember it to this day.
“You acted it out. You walked around the room and acted out the parts as you explained the following. The public was on a train moving into the future.
The liberal engineer and the brakeman were both in the cabin. The liberal engineer was inclined to shovel on more coal. When he looked out the window he looked to the future to determine how fast the train could safely go. The brakeman became the engineer when he got enough votes from the passengers.
He still wanted to go forward. His left hand was on the throttle, with his right hand on the brake. When he stuck his head out the window he looked to where the train had been to make his decision as to how fast the train should safely move forward.
“In politics you explained there are always a few who are extremist. The supreme liberals are called radicals. You said conservative people often call them communists or socialists. The radicals do not ride in the train. They find themselves on the cow-catcher begging for more speed regardless of the road ahead. Those of the opposite persuasion are in the back deck of the caboose. I think you called them reactionaries. They are crying as they are pulled into the future. If they could ever get control, they would reverse the direction of the train.
“You also used the lunch line as an example of wanting change in society. If you are in the front of the lunch line, do you want a new system to determine who gets to eat first? And if you’re last in the lunch line, would you vote for a change in deciding what the rules are for eating?”
She told me that some students were ntimidated by my teaching approach. It never bothered her. She could get very angry with me and had no need to hide it. She was a spirited student and made class discussions a blast.
I learned from other student interviews that Bett was a paragon of virtue.
I was told that she let her fellow classmates know when they were out of line, and she strengthened their friendship so they would not become involved in sultry situations.
She had a friend who knew little about boys. Her friend was raised in a home where there was no gender talk at all. The family also had enough bathrooms that the girls and the boys did not know how the other half lived. She took her friend to see the statue of David to show her that men also have pubic hair.
“You wrote me a letter of recommendation which I enjoyed so much I have saved it. It is still precious to me.”