by Pettus Read
With all the talk these days about teachers becoming a part of the line of defense against attacks and being allowed to carry guns at school, it has really caused a lot of opinions to surface. Many have some merit, while other opinions should be allowed to be placed back under the surface they came from.
All of this discussion has made the "Letter to the Editor" column in most papers a very interesting reading adventure. One of the best I have seen came from Ruth Kitchen in Smyrna, Tenn. where she praised her grandmother who was a primary grade school teacher in Southern Illinois in the early to mid-20th century. Ms. Kitchen told of her Grandma Rose, an early widow, who was a dedicated, talented teacher and a strong, independent, God-fearing, patriotic American woman. During the Depression, she kept peanut butter and crackers in a desk drawer for those children who came to school without lunch.
Ms. Kitchen went on to say, "She did not indulge in invective speech, so I can only guess at what her response would have been upon being told that she was now expected to learn to use a gun and keep one in her desk drawer next to the peanut butter and crackers. I can only postulate that it would have been something like: "What piffle, from a pack of nincompoops!"
The school I attended way back in the 50s and 60s had teachers just like Ms. Kitchen's Grandma Rose and they didn't care much for senseless talk from nincompoops either. I should know. I was probably their head nincompoop. We had radiator heat, no air conditioning, chalkboards with pits in places and wood floors that were oiled to keep the dust down. That oiling process got a lot of us in trouble when we would return to school after the holidays and find freshly oiled wood floors that still had puddles of oil in places. This was before you had varnished floors and the wood had been kept by applying an oil-based substance to preserve the wood. Over the holidays, the janitor would reapply the oil while the kids were gone. The first day back the floors would be a little slick and when we would catch the teacher out of the room, someone would find himself or herself in a school desk sliding across the room. We could actually get pretty good distance on fresh oil when two of us would give the desk a kick from the back. It was fun until the one we were pushing dropped their feet and hung their brogans on a slightly raised nail in the floorboards.
But I always thought that the school I attended was a rather fine establishment, because we really knew no difference. I didn't have air conditioning at home and the cafeteria supplied soup and pimento cheese sandwiches on Wednesday and fish on Friday. What more could a kid ask for? And besides, you had the chance to learn something instead of doing chores back on the farm. School was a grand place to me and it was due to the fact that the teaching staff was just as glad as I was to be there. The teacher never seemed to get sick and was always there. I went to school before spring or fall breaks had been thought of, but we did get some time off to pick cotton in the fall, which made school even more enjoyable. Pulling a cotton sack between cotton rows all day was not my idea of fun. Especially, if my father caught me putting green cotton boles in the bottom of the sack to make my weight quota. However, I was taught in those certain situations the lesson of right and wrong and still remember it today. And yes, he drove the point home without the use of "timeout" which made the lesson even more memorable, if you know what I mean.
No matter what type of equipment is in a school building, the teacher is what has the impact on a child's school experience. Even though it was almost 47 years ago that I graduated from high school, the lessons taught by my teachers in what would seem to be primitive structures today to a child, are what has made a great difference in my life. From tying my shoes to learning the chemical elements in chemistry class, those teachers also taught me an understanding of working with others and being a good citizen. And just like my father taught me right from wrong in the cotton patch, my school teachers also followed up with the same lessons on the subject. They didn't use timeout either and their methods of educational discipline could keep your attention and "warm" your soul. Allow those discipline methods again in our schools, as well as homes, and no one would be thinking about arming our teachers.
My hat is off to our teachers and education systems across this state. They deserve the backing of every parent and any of us who every now and then complains about today's education. I was blessed to have gone to school when the only danger in a school building was catching one of those nails in the floor and taking a spill in my desk. I just wish that was the extent of it today, but it is not. Thanks, teachers, for going the extra mile and keeping it up.