Teachers are the people we remember.
On Saturday afternoon, I’m going to the 50th anniversary wedding celebration for two educators from my hometown, Pryor, Okla. One was my 7th grade English teacher and the other my junior high student council adviser.
They also were supportive when I, as a young and brash adult, sought a seat as a delegate to the Oklahoma Democratic Party state convention. This was part of an honors project when I was a student at Oklahoma State University.
We were not particularly close. But they have both remained large in my life, some 30+ years later. Jana and Rick Elliott are two of the faces that come to my mind when I hear the word, “teacher.” There are certainly many others, including lots of relatives, but these two always seem to pop into my head.
There are three reasons Jana, my English teacher, is the poster teacher for me.
- Jana told stories about a dog, Zeke (as I recall) who would participate in their lives, specifically while Rick was shaving. I didn’t know much about shaving then, but I loved dogs. And that they allowed their dog to participate in the family morning ritual stuck with me. I never met Zeke nor saw a photo. Yet decades later I can recall his name when I can’t remember what I had for breakfast yesterday.
- That white people stole the land from Native Americans was a concept first introduced by a simple puzzle Jana introduced on a late afternoon in class. I’m admittedly fuzzy on the details, but I recall a quote on the chalkboard we were supposed to figure out. The answer was a quote from Chief Joseph, in my mind, but it could also have been from some other indigenous leader. The next year in a different school system, I had a Native American teacher for American History who enlightened me on the history of the United States from a different perspective.
- Jana reinforced my nature to be a creative thinker in solving common problems. Students in a seventh grade classroom are not the best at keeping up with things like pencils, paper, and textbooks. Jana had a practice of allowing students to borrow forgotten items as long as they left collateral. Typically, this was a shoe. I never had to offer a shoe for a pencil but classmates did. Her creative way to deal with this has inspired me to look for unique solutions to common problems that help people change their behavior.
Now, on to Rick.
He was the student council adviser my ninth-grade year. I had attended a different school for a year-and-a-half before returning to Pryor and was on the student council there. I don’t even recall how I ended up on student council, but I am grateful he was the faculty adviser.
Ninth grade was a hard year. My parents were recently divorced. I left a school with more advanced courses to return to Pryor with no support for my specific educational needs. (“Kurt can take geometry if you can get him from the junior high to the high school every day.”) Student council was a highlight. I’ve always liked governance and politics.
Due to poor judgment from some of my classmates and my lack of reporting on their plans, many in the student council became at risk for losing their leadership roles and even faced possible expulsion or other disciplinary measures.
Rick deftly guided a process which held those most culpable, culpable, while also instilling a stark sense of responsibility to those of us on the fringes of what in 2019 would be considered a crime and lead to minutes of hyperbolic TV coverage on the youth of 1976.
His calm demeanor and regulated response was a gift and now a reminder to treat a crisis as an opportunity for reasoned response and leadership. It was a different time as we looked forward to the bicentennial celebrations of the United States. Rick’s example resonates in my life as I’ve encountered people in crisis, deserved or inflicted.
My first commitment with this new blog (actually revitalized, but I don’t think anyone read the previous blog) is to remember each of the teachers I had from Kindergarten through high school graduation. After that, I’ll write about other influential educators in my life. I’m please to start this blog with Jana and Rick on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary.