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On the Sunny Side of the Street: Thankful

Dan reflects on teachers who have taught him, those he taught with, and those still teaching today, and is thankful.

Last week, I read to a couple of Language Arts classes at Mayfield Intermediate School as part of the Young Readers Day program that Lianne Best managed.  She greeted us readers in the library where there were snacks (yea, snacks!) and a couple of book trucks with volumes selected and annotated by the library staff. I picked a Jack Tale and a book about a boy who designs a rather fanciful car , complete with a swimming pool!

The two classes were orderly and attentive and asked good questions. I was quite impressed with the faculty and students at Mayfield. We had had some experience with them when they relocated the sixth grade last year after heavy snows had rendered their school unsafe to use. They were housed in our (Manassas Baptist) church’s “Rock” building and were model citizens the time they were there.

I have to say that I have been impressed with the teachers and students and staff and administration of all the schools I’ve been in since I retired from teaching at Robinson High School in Fairfax nearly ten years ago. I’ve had occasion to be in Mayfield, as I wrote, in Manassas Baptist Preschool where Stephanie Roland runs a wonderful program with terrific teachers,  at Signal Hill Elementary where my daughter Amy teaches, and at Stonewall High School, for several of Wandy Boley’s choirs’ outstanding music programs.  Martha Cannon was a long-term math teacher at Osbourn Park High School before she retired this year. Rock on, Ms. C!

A number of people on Facebook have been posting one thing they’re thankful for each day, which strikes me as a good discipline, but one which I haven’t practiced because I’ve been involved with other writing projects. Nonetheless, I could write what I am thankful for, and it would take the rest of my life, because there’s a lot. So, I decided to narrow it down to teachers I’m thankful for, although that is quite a long list.

First and foremost were my parents. They taught me so much I could devote several of these posts to it. I also learned a lot from an uncle who lived with us for a while, B.N. King. He was absolutely the most generous person I have ever known. He also married my fifth grade teacher, Kate Reaves, who read to us after lunch. It was from her that I first heard the Applachian Jack Tales.

I’m thankful for the teachers I had, at an elementary school in Maryland where I went the first semester of first grade, and then grades two through seven at Westmore Elementary in Fairfax. The teachers there taught us more than their subjects: we learned to cooperate, to mind our manners, to sing and to play well together. My seventh-grade teacher, Mike Chuey, became my first principal when I started teaching myself.

The teachers at Lanier Intermediate were so patient with us. I remember my English teacher Miss Green. She had been a reporter for a Richmond paper and I thought it was so great to have a real live journalist for an English teacher.

I went one year to the old Fairfax High School where I had Eugene Puffenberger for biology. He also became one of my principals in later years. My teachers at Woodson, where I went for sophomore through junior years were also outstanding. I recall Dot McAteer for geometry, Aurelia Horner for junior English and Frances Ide Johnson for senior English, Helene Valiere for French V, Dot Spencer for journalism and as our newspaper sponsor, and Helen Miller as my history teacher who inspired me to major in the humanities and not become a rocket scientist as I thought I would (Couldn’t do the math, literally).

I went for a couple of years to Wesleyan University, where I had poet Richard Wilbur for literature and Robert Rosenbaum for a “philosophy of mathematics” class. The only A+ on a paper I received came from that class. Go figure.

I transferred to American University to finish my degree in English and had Edward Kessler, another American poet, for literature classes. During my masters work at George Mason University, I had several classes with Bill Martin, and later taught with him. John O’Connor was an outstanding teacher of Shakespeare and poetry I had classes with.  I also took classes at U.VA. with several excellent professors.

Then there were the people I taught with at Robinson High School. The list is long, but I remember Gloria Johnson, Preston Haynie, Mike Gainer, Kit Dougherty, Ina Altman, Betsy Hudgins, Libby Andrews, Diane Lethcoe, Mary Moriarty, Marcia Gibson, Scott Ludlow, Gwen Smith, Chip Rome, Tara McCord, Mike Bartlett, and a number of others (my memory fails me about their names).

As my children moved through school, they had excellent teachers. For one, I think of Suzie Shaw, who passed away this past summer. Both of the daughters had her for English and she was a force of nature and an incredible person and teacher.

I would also include the music teachers I’ve known. I’ve mentioned  Wanda Boley, and there’s also Debbie Schlecte at Parkside, Milton Rodgers at Grace UMC and Deborah Pannell at Manassas Presbyterian Church, and my wife, Becky Verner, who has an incredible command of directing, working with all ages and playing organ and piano. She’s also quite a writer.

I said the list was long, and it was, but I am grateful to all these teachers over the years who have taught me so much. Perhaps you can think of a few who helped you out along the way as well.

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