Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.
This week’s Sepia Saturday photo prompt is the health fairy capturing the full attention of a group of eager children. It’s probably pretty easy to keep children focused when you’re sporting wings and carrying an enchanted wand. It’s a little tougher when you’re sporting chalk dust on your backside and carrying a red pen.
But my mother Mary Eleanor Davis Slade managed to engage groups of children for 33.5 years, well, most of the time anyway. With a BA in Education from Madison College, she spent most of her teaching career in Portsmouth, Virginia. She was primarily an English teacher but for brief periods she taught upper elementary school and even Spanish.
Here she is with one of her first classes, the 4th graders of Cradock Elementary. The class size far exceeds today’s standards for student-teacher ratio. (I wonder what that boy at the far left is pointing at.)
Oct 24, 1956
Look how happy the children are on Picture Day. They probably were not that happy learning their multiplication tables though. Momma required them to learn to multiply by 11 and by 12. The other teachers were a tad miffed when her students excelled on the standardized math tests. Probably jealous. It’s no fun when a colleague makes you look bad.
A few years later, Momma had a student who became the subject of one of her favorite stories about teaching: Peter Bastinelli. Without wings or magic wand, she kept students’ attention by calling on them randomly to answer questions. When she called on Peter, other students began answering out of turn. Ever the disciplinarian, Momma glared at the students and asked, “How many Peters are in this class?” From the back of the room came a small voice, “Thirteen, I think.” Of course, she could not laugh in front of those students, but she laughed the rest of her life over it. [DISCLAIMER: This is only funny if you understand the slang. I haven’t heard anyone use this term in years, so I could possibly be laughing alone.]
In 1962, Momma must have worked some magic on her sixth graders at Cradock Junior High. After completing a unit on newspapers and magazines, the class voted to write and publish a class newspaper.
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Grade 6 Room 6
This little 3-page mimeographed newspaper was probably considered highly creative and innovative in its day. Today Momma would have to coordinate a class website or blog to generate such enthusiasm.
A Newspaper’s Beginning
After discussing the parts of magazines and newspapers in English class, it was suggested by Johnny Grant that Room 6 have its own newspaper. This idea was quickly accepted by everyone. A committee was appointed by the class president, Elizabeth Carter, to select a staff. The staff was chosen and work then began.
When Momma decided to hang up her red pen in 1990, she was teaching English at Norcom High School. The school newspaper interviewed the three retirees.
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She said that the biggest change she had seen over the years was the “decline in dedication to learning,” but that her years at Norcom were her happiest. What a fine demonstration of diplomacy.
Among the things my sister and I threw away when we cleaned out our parents’ home were scores of school pictures of students we didn’t know. But one slipped by, stuck between more prized photos, I guess. The message on the back is typical of the affection many students felt toward “Mizz Slade.”
To Mrs. Mary Slade
The best teacher I have ever had, one who is fair, friendly, and very nice. I hope you have a very nice future. Don’t ever forget me, ‘cause I will never forget you.
Momma captured their attention, all right. And she didn’t even need a wand.
Go to Sepia Saturday where some captivating stories await.