My heart breaks when I read about scandals involving school teachers and officials everywhere. These tragedies occur all too often, and with each new crazy happening, I try to balance my emotions by being prayerfully thankful for those thousands of schools that function day-in and day-out without a headline.
There are few headlines that tell about those schools that produce normal, happy, inquisitive students, students who experience a feeling of security, who have teachers and principals, janitors and lunchroom personnel that daily give the students any number of reasons to want to go to school. Notoriety spawns headlines; great schools produce exemplary students.
That’s just how it is. I’ll take the good students any day and be thankful for whatever recognition comes along.
I had reason recently to compare today’s schools with schools of my generation. I had a call from a friend in Dalton (where I grew up) to tell me Charles Bowen had died. He was my high school principal for the four years leading up to my graduation from Dalton High in 1951.
I knew he had celebrated his 100th birthday in May 2013. I had not seen him since a class reunion quite a few years ago, but I thought about him often. He was the kind of educator that educators look up to.
In that era, some principals were also classroom teachers. I was fortunate to be in a class Mr. Bowen taught called Senior Math. I don’t remember being especially fearful of him, but I do remember having a new kind of respect, seeing him in action in the classroom.
During my elementary years in one of the Whitfield County schools, it seems we had a different principal every year or so. At many schools, the principal lived in a house adjacent to the school grounds which meant he or she was “on the clock” 24/7.
For at least one year, my fifth-grade year, our principal was a lady, Inez Kerr. I loved her. She was such an integral part of our lives. We saw her in and around the school every day. She participated in skits with students, and she arranged extra, fun activities.
My best memory of her concerns the end-of-school program that year. It happened to be on her birthday in early May, possibly May 1. A May Day program was planned for presentation on the big field/playground in front of the school. Students would wind the maypole and perform other May Day activities.
A special surprise would be the presentation of a big birthday cake to Ms. Kerr. My classmate, Lenard Whaley, had been designated the May King, and I was the Queen of the May. As such, we were to walk across the field carrying the cake.
I was terrified. I was so sure that Lenard would fumble and drop his hold on the cake and we would die of shame. But all went well. We did not die in infamy.
Years later, in 1947, when I walked into my first year Latin class at Dalton High, there sat Ms. Kerr at the teacher’s desk. How lucky could I be? Ms. Kerr proved to be even better as a teacher than she had been as a principal, at least for me.
But I digress. In the article about Mr. Bowen in the Dalton paper, his son states that his father had opportunities to make more money in business ventures, but never pursued that career. Instead, he stayed in the education field, saying, “I just really think I can do more good helping these young people.”
He was the Dalton High principal for 22 years. Hundreds of students passed through those doors, walked those halls and sat in those classrooms. For every one of those students, there is a Mr. Bowen story, and each story would attest to his success in helping all of us.
Our children, some of our grandchildren and now our great-grandchildren are almost as fortunate as I was.
They have had, and will have, school teachers and principals of the same fabric as those I remember.
And to those educators in the trenches I say, “Thanks for all you do.”
Juanita Hughes is retired head of the Woodstock Library.