Some of the greatest influences in my early life were teachers I had at Alexander Graham Bell Junior High School I the late 1960s.
I lost my Mom when I was five years old and Dad was left with five young sons to raise by himself. Our family was part of Tulsa Bible Church and our church family was like parents to my brothers and me. They had a deep impact on me.
Most of my junior high teachers have passed but some are still around (although I have not kept up with them).
Jim Salwaechter was my science teacher. He was very knowledgeable and he had a knack for drawing out our curiosity concerning science. Because he was such a good teacher, I still remember the difference between an endoskeleton and exoskeleton. Back then, I asked him why bugs could fall great distances (for them) and survive yet people get hurt falling short distances (for us). It’s because bugs have exoskeletons and we have endoskeletons.
I know all these teachers as Mr. Salwaecheter and Mrs. Whoever. I have to look up their first names because it was impolite to call a teacher by his or her first name back then.
Mrs. Bearden, Joanna Bearden, taught me English in the eighth grade. She was very young and just recently had finished college, as I recall. She made class fun and she showed a genuine interest in the students.
Mrs. Hancock, Gerry Hancock, taught Civics. I remember she went into great detail about how America was formed and the advantages of our style of government. She talked about our judicial system and during one class, we enacted a fake trial.
It was very instructional.
She also gave us a survey to see what kind of profession we might want to become when we grow up. My answer was a teacher or a salesman.
I was never in class with Mr. Pickett, Jim Pickett, but I always wanted to be. He was a bit overweight and he played the banjo in class. Mr. Pickett was such a happy guy, he was just fun to be around.
I never had Mrs. Milton, Marion Milton, as a teacher. The students I hung out with thought she was the toughest teacher at Bell and none of us wanted to end up in her classes.
Mr. Casey, Dee Casey, taught math and I was in class. He was a hoot. One day, his students were particularly noisy and he said, “If anyone says one more word, they are going to get a swat.” Seizing the opportunity, I said, “One more word.”
“Let’s go,” Mr. Casey said as he escorted into the hallway with the “board of education.” He was halfway laughing when he gave me the lightest swat I ever got from a teacher (I really didn’t get many).
One of my favorite teachers was Mr. Robinson, Bill Robinson. He was a great mentor and a friend to his students. He was tough academically, but he was completely fair. He wanted his students to succeed.
Mr. Robinson was the sponsor of the Key Club, a high school offshoot of the Kiwanis Club. We raised money to take a bus trip to Six Flags Over Texas. He told us that anyone who wasn’t at the school at 6 a.m. would get left behind. I woke up at 6:15 when I hear a huge bus honk outside my front door. He didn’t want to leave me behind because he knew how much it meant to me. I will always be grateful for his kindness that day.
Mrs. Ford, Zillah Ford, was my Spanish teacher in the seventh, eighth and ninth grades. She was such a good teacher that I kept taking Spanish as an elective each year. She prepared me so well that I took advanced Spanish in all three years of high school and 18 hours of college Spanish.
Mrs. Ford was up in years when she taught us at Bell. But she had great patience. Her goal was for us to conduct the entire class in Spanish. We learned by rote. We memorized Spanish words and we conjugated sentences.
The groundwork she laid for me in Spanish helped later when I studied journalism. I wish I could still speak Spanish but I have never been in a situation where I had to use it much. I remember bits and pieces of vocabulary.
Mrs. Ford loved to laugh.
She would go around the room and ask each student to translate a word. Casa meant house. Amigo was friend. And so on.
I had a friend who sat in front of me who just didn’t get it. He panicked every time Mrs. Ford would ask him the English translation of a Spanish.
On several occasions, I whispered the wrong answer to him. If the word was perro (dog), I would whisper “pig” and he would enthusiastically answer.
Mrs. Ford couldn’t hear me but she knew what was going on and she smiled and just corrected him in her gentle fashion.
There were many great teachers at Bell.
Students from Bell Junior High School (now Bell Elementary) were split three ways into Hale High School, Rogers High School and East Central High School back then.
I went to Nathan Hale High School, where I had more great teachers (that must be in a future column).
I thank God for how they helped shape me on the path to being an adult.