Friday, July 20, 2012

Sepia Saturday: Attention, Please!


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.)

Cradock Elem
Grade 4
Room 8
Portsmouth, VA
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. 

Click to enlarge
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.   

Click to enlarge

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.
Love you
Always,
Reneta Abbott
c/o ‘88










Momma captured their attention, all right. And she didn’t even need a wand.


Go to Sepia Saturday where some captivating stories await.


42 comments:

  1. What a great tribute to your mom. We need more teachers like this!

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  2. What a lovely accolade to your mum and her career.

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  3. Wendy, this is beautiful. I wish that your Mom could have been my teacher. That story about Peter was pretty funny! Hugs,

    Kathy M.

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    1. I'm sure Momma would have loved having you in class since you're such a good reader. (Glad you got the joke.)

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  4. We have had some laughs over that Peter story! Too funny.

    She was the best at everything.

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    1. But she overcooked brussel sprouts.

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    2. Did the smoke alarm go off? If not, they weren't done.

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  5. Aw, what a lovely sentiment by her former student! So, a question came to me as I read this great tribute to your mom...were you ever in one of her classes?

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    1. No, our school was big enough that we had multiple teachers for each grade, so I never had Momma as a teacher. But I surely heard about her from my friends who had her. Sometimes it wasn't fun being in the same building, but it was really ok.

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  6. It’s interesting that your Mother noted the ‘declining dedication to learning’ in 1990. I wonder what she’d think now! I didn’t notch up as many years as your Mother but when I started teaching in 1974 it was common to have class sizes of 40. By the time I retired 30 was the norm. This was a lovely tribute to you Mother Wendy.

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    1. Hmm, I could be wrong about class size. When I was teaching in public school in the 70s-80s, we were at 30 but trying to stay around 25-27. Or maybe that was just the school I was in.

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  7. I enjoyed reading your mother's dedication towards teaching. Yes, the class size seems big, the students all smiles and are looking a bit mischievous, a good sign. You mother must have really enjoyed her vocation.

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    1. Yes, she really did. And she really enjoyed her colleagues.

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  8. That's so great that both your and your mom were teachers. Did you ever get such a nice note from one of your students?
    Nancy

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    1. I do indeed have some nice notes. In fact, some of my students from the class of '81 are Facebook friends. Two of them came to my house for lunch last week -- we had a little mini reunion. Gosh, it was fun.

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  9. I enjoyed this tribute to your mom and got a chuckle about the Peters. I guess teachers become well practiced at the art of stifling the giggles. (I'm having comment issues - I thought my daughter had helped me resolve them) - Kathy at abbieandeveline.com

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    1. I'm glad you have your commenting issues worked out. Yes, I had only a few teachers who couldn't stifle.

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  10. Oh of course they were, who doesn't love math right!!! Ha! Ha! I kind of had lots of math trouble, from time to time! Until I finally discovered the importance of math! What great photos and information you've posted for us! I so enjoyed the school side of the theme....

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    1. Yeah, I never "got" algebra until I had my own checkbook and had to learn to add negative numbers. LOL

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  11. I can think of no finer tribute to anyone who ever picked up a stick of chalk than "to the best teacher I ever had". You must be very proud of her.

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  12. Love the 1956 photo of her class. I taught for 30 years+ but never had such a large class. Colleen

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    1. I don't remember having such a large class either. I love that photo too. Usually you expect some kid to be snarling, but these kids look like the Dream Class. Love the little Brownie.

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  13. When I was in school, it never would have occurred to me to not do the homework. I would have loved the idea of doing a class newspaper. I still remember learning how to write checks in sixth grade.

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    1. I always did my homework. I can't imagine trying to slip by. I don't remember learning to write checks, but we were taught how to write Thank-You notes. I hate receiving a pre-printed thank-you.

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  14. Your mother sounds like a wonderful person. How lucky were all her students to have her as a role model.

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  15. were those 16 "peters" regularly called "peter"? i doubt it. I didn't have to learn the 11s and 12s but the 11s are pretty easy ;-D
    Your mother sounds like a teacher who really thought about what she was teaching and ways to make it interesting. Would that there were more like that.

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    1. Momma did work hard, that's for sure.

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  16. I wondered why she hadn't got to laugh at the Peter story then looked up the American slang, so funny. What a touching last line from her student.

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    1. Even as I was writing that story, I wondered if even AMERICANS would get it. Like I said, I don't hear that term anymore. We've progressed to higher levels of vulgarity.

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  17. Sounds like your mother was a wonderful teacher and made an impression on all of her students that they probably remember to this day. Teachers like her are rare, because they really do care and want their students to succeed. I think it's special that you followed in her footsteps to also be a teacher. Hope you are enjoying your retirement.

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    1. I am indeed enjoying retirement. I have time for THIS.

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  18. I didn't get the joke so did some internet searching. Now I get it! First time that I have heard that slang term used so I have learnt something new :)

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    1. Please feel free to forget that slang term!

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  19. There is no greater or honorable profession than teaching. Where would any of us be without teacher! I know I couldn't do it. Your mother sounds like a wonderful woman!

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    1. Thanks. I agree about those great teachers. I was lucky to have quite a few who made a major impression.

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  20. As with some other jobs, teaching is a vocation, and you can tell who's in his/her right element, and who doesn't belong there. We all have teachers that stand above the rest. I know I remember a couple of them most fondly. But I also remember a moron in college who didn't have a clue, nor the motivation, tot teach anything else but mediocrity. He did it so well!!
    :/~
    HUGZ

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    1. The sad thing about PhD's is that some are brilliant people who know their field but really don't know how to teach it. Some are so socially awkward that they don't know how to deal with PEOPLE, let alone students.

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    2. Communication is key and adapting to the people you are teaching is most important, otherwise, your knowledge is useless to them. If you can't communicate, go into research instead, and if you become successful about this, find yourself a good editor, and someone to handle your public relations...
      ;)~

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