Barry Saunders

Let’s hear it for those teachers who changed our lives – Saunders

All of us have no problem when asked to name our favorite teachers.
All of us have no problem when asked to name our favorite teachers. N&O file photo

Every so often, I get to go to lunch with my 12th-grade history teacher from Richmond Senior High School in Rockingham, Louie Ross.

He’s retired and living in Raleigh now.

Unlike in class, when I was perpetually talking or sleeping or just generally being a wiseacre while he was telling us who really built the pyramids, he no longer gets upset with me. I suspect he figures I’m somebody else’s problem now.

Despite no longer getting upset, he definitely becomes exasperated when I insist upon calling him Mr. Ross, even though by some fate of genetics or diet he looks younger than I.

I apologize and promise to call him Louie, but it’s hard.

This week is National Teacher Appreciation Week, and the appreciation and respect I feel for all of my educators except one is such that I can’t even imagine calling them by first name. That’s true even though I’m older now than most of them were when they were trying to teach me about conjugating verbs or the hypotenuse of a triangle.

Is it unusual that I can think of not a single bad thing to say about any teacher or educator except my junior high school principal, who gets my vote as the evillest principal in the history of public schools?

Reasons furnished upon request.

Other than that principal – who once tried to have me committed to a notorious reform school for talking in class – trying to name a favorite teacher is like trying to name a favorite ice cream flavor or pizza topping. Even the bad ones are good.

In ninth grade, there was Mr. Webb, a terrific teacher who busted me – but did so gently – when he caught me plagiarizing a James Brown song and presenting it as an original work.

“That James Brown is a heckuva poet, isn’t he, Mr. Saunders?” Mr. Webb said when I’d finished reciting my poached poem to the class.

Who knew a man who wore wingtip shoes and a cardigan sweater with elbow patches had ever heard Brown’s dismal dirge to opioid addiction, “King Heroin”?

I didn’t, but I do now, and I still cringe when recalling the embarrassment of being busted in front of the entire class.

There was Mrs. Martin, my 10th grade English teacher who, instead of banishing me to the special ed class to make clay ash trays and sing Kumbaya as my Biology teacher did, gave me a list of books to read. One of those books, “Don Quixote,” I still consider to be the greatest piece of literature ever written. I want to thank her every time I read it.

There was also Mr. Weatherly, a guidance counselor who wouldn’t take any trash or excuses or bull – like that I tried to lay on him when explaining my poor scholastic performance.

“Maybe these courses are too tough,” I said, pleading to be sent to easier classes where I could make clay ash trays and sing Kumbaya.

“Bull#$%*! You’re already taking the easiest courses we offer,” he said, although not that delicately.

There was Mrs. Watkins, my first-grade teacher, who for some reason named me to the honor roll. For the next 11 years and beyond, I boasted to anyone who asked – and to many who didn’t – that, why yes, I was an honor roll student in school.

Just about everyone else I talked to had no problem naming a favorite teacher. Ken Goodman, the state representative from Rockingham who represents Richmond and four other counties, didn’t hesitate. “Becky Howell,” he said. “She gave me an appreciation of literature that I still have today. I can still recite many of those lines from Shakespeare that she made me memorize. My wife, (Richmond County Schools Superintendent) Cindy, had her 13 years laters and has many good memories of her as well.”

I remember her, too, but not as Becky. She was Rebecca Howell, and don’t you forget it.

Goodman said Mrs. Howell still lives in Ellerbe.

Want to do something good for National Teacher Appreciation Week?

Even if you can’t find one of your own, take someone else’s teacher to lunch. If you’re in Richmond County, call Mrs. Howell or another former teacher and say “Hey”.

Oh yeah. You can also demand that legislators plug the brain drain from our state by paying them more money.

Barry Saunders: 919-836-2811, @BarrySaunders9

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