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James R. Stout

Teacher Teacher, I Declare

            As good as my memory is, I don’t actually remember the names of every teacher that I ever had. My elementary teachers are easier to remember mainly because there were much fewer of them. For the most part, I had only one teacher per grade level. The truth is there are only two teachers from my elementary years that I don’t recall their names. We moved from Houston to Bryan, Texas on May 4th of 1963 when I was almost finished with 1st grade. I do not recall the teacher that I had for the last three weeks of first grade. In fact, I have only a few memories of that school. We knew when we moved that we would be moving again within a few months. Mom and Dad were looking for a permanent house to buy and, in the meantime, we moved into a rental house so that Dad could start his new business. Back in those days school didn’t start until after Labor Day. We ended up moving into our permanent house on September 30, 1963. So, I don’t recall the name of my 2nd grade teacher at that first school, a teacher that I only had for about 3 weeks or so. Otherwise, I remember all of my elementary teachers. Fifth grade was a total mess for me. We moved again in November of 1966 and then again in February 1967. So, I ended up going to three schools in 5th grade. Of all the teachers that I had in elementary school there were two that stand out as favorites. One in particular was my very favorite for elementary school.

            Coming in 2nd place was my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Dahlberg. She was a very good teacher. She was much older than most of the teachers that I had. She could easily have been old enough to be my grandmother. I learned a lot from her, and she was a very sweet lady. She didn’t let us get away with much, but she was not mean or so stern that there was little fun in class. My favorite part of that year was our combination of Geography and World History. Our geography book was great. Each chapter was about a particular country or region of the world. We studied Japan, China, India, England, Ireland, Germany, Russia, and perhaps my favorite, Egypt. What was really interesting about Egypt was it coincided with the building of the Aswan Dam. We got to watch current newsreels about the building of the dam and the events surrounding the preservation of ancient buildings and monuments that would end up being under water. It was way cool. My absolute favorite elementary teacher was my 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Laster. I have no idea how old she was, but I would guess she was in her late 20’s at the time. She was a fantastic teacher. She was very sweet, very smart, and she genuinely cared about her students. I have no negative memories at all regarding her or 3rd grade. My favorite part of her class was when she read to us. We went through a couple of books that year. She would read a chapter a day. It was a quiet time and for me it was a time to live the stories. The one that I remember the best was “Pinocchio”. It was full of adventure, laughter, and love.

            Well, I suppose everyone had a teacher or two that they had a crush on. My 8th grade year presented me with my two favorite teachers of Junior High School. Both in the same year! Sixth and seventh grade were pretty much a nightmare. I had some good teachers, but some pretty bad teachers too. That was something new for me. With the exception of a bullying incident, 8th grade was a great year for me. The bully was one sick kid. And I do mean sick. If he is still alive today, then he is likely in prison or something like that. I’m not going to talk about him though. It was what it was and before it was over, I persevered. Back to those two teachers. The teacher that I had a crush on was Mrs. Sillivan. My memory of her was that she was very pretty. She was also very young. I think our class was her first year of teaching. So, she was probably only about 22 years-old. Now keep your mind out of the gutter when I say this, but she wore these pleated skirts that just drove me nuts. I remember one of them was purple. I think the deal with that was I had already had a crush on Shelley Fabarares from “The Donna Reed Show”, but it was in an Elvis Presley movie that she wore a skirt like that. That movie, “Girl Happy”, is my favorite Elvis movie. (“Viva Las Vegas” is 2nd!) Mrs. Sillavan was my English teacher that year. It was a fun class and my first “girlfriend” was in that class. Yea, we were so cool. We actually held hands a few times!

            My number one teacher in junior high was my 8th grade history teacher. She didn’t let you get away with much, but she genuinely cared about her students and made history come alive. Her name was/is Mrs. Anderson. Of all the teachers that I ever had, she is the only one that is a “friend” on Facebook. She’s still cool 50 years down the road! I don’t know how old she was then, but I’m guessing she was in her late 20’s. She wasn’t a rookie, but she wasn’t jaded either. She was the kind of teacher that made you want to do your best. She was encouraging, learned, inspiring, and all the things you could hope for in a teacher. And, as I recall, she was certainly pretty, which never hurt.

            Now we get to high school. It was a mixed-bag where teachers were concerned. Do I recall the names of every teacher that I had? No, but I remember most of them. The ones that I most remember were either very good or very bad. They ran the gamut. The truth is that I had one teacher in 9th grade that I liked and that I felt cared about me. Tenth grade was basically just OK. No particular teacher or teachers stood out as favorites etc. Eleventh grade was basically about the same. My American history teacher was a good teacher and I liked her, and I did learn a lot from her class. I wrote several long poems about some of our forefathers. I would give her a copy of them, and she loved them. She even read them to the class. The two that I remember best (and still have copies of that my mother typed when she found my hand-written copies and liked them so well) was “Poor George” about George Washington and “The Great Compromiser” about Henry Clay. When a certain former Texas governor made fun of George Bush with her “Poor George” speech, I had a good laugh.

            Onward to my senior year. My favorite teacher of high school my English teacher that year. It was a creative writing class. Mrs. Huckabay was my teacher. I don’t have any idea how old she was. Probably in her late 40’s. But she was about as cool as they get. However, the horn-rimmed glasses needed updating! She took a great interest in my writing and helped me learn some of the basics with regards to dialogue. She also was very encouraging about my songwriting. She used lyrics from some of the current songs as a way to express creative writing. It caused me to start writing about things other than simple boy-girl love songs.

            Well, let’s recap. My favorite Elementary teacher was 3rd grade teacher Mrs. Laster. My favorite junior high teacher was Mrs. Anderson. My favorite high school teacher was Mrs. Huckabay. What’s my point in telling you all of this? It’s simply to say that teachers were extremely important to me growing-up. I am thankful to have had these great teachers who intersected with my then young life and sparked interest, inspiration, and were influential in helping to lay the groundwork for my life to come. To be frank, I could never be a teacher. I’m just not patient enough and as much as I hate to admit it, I’m a bit too thin skinned to survive. I also believe that teaching is a calling. It should never be viewed as “just a job”. But even though I am not teaching material, I do think that all of us, myself included, can be teachers in our own way. I love to read to my grandkids. Now that I am retired, I would be interested in reading to children in a program at a library etc. But that’s for another day. If you know a teacher, then thank him or her for being there for so many kids’ year in and year out. Thanks to all the teachers that I’ve ever had, Mrs. Anderson that especially includes you, and thanks to the people who I have known that spent their working life as teachers. Two of them were my sisters. Barbara, who passed away in 2018, was a music and English teacher. Debbie taught elementary school for 40 years. Now, go thank a teacher.

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