I find it hard to think that it has been almost 60 years since I first walked through the door of room 104 at Brockway Area High School to take possession of my first high school math classroom. It was still part of the same school system where I had spent my undergrad years at Snyder Township, Ninth Avenue School, and the old Main Street High School. But I had never been in this new building, which was first occupied for the 1957-58 school term. I had been at Penn State working on my teaching degree.
In the fall of 1959, I was student-teaching at Beaty Junior High (now a Middle School) in Warren, Pennsylvania. There was a shortage of teachers in those days so it was pretty easy to land a job; as a matter of fact, I was offered a job to teach right there. I considered accepting the offer since I really liked the school and the community. I even recall having a Bonavita or two, natives of the area in my class. I’m sure it was a good position and it is anyone’s guess how it might have led my life.
Then I got a call from Herb Steele, a family friend and the Brockway High School Principal at that time. There was an opening in the high school math department and he invited me to stop at the new school and meet the new principal (just that year) named Blair Rupert. The better choice of jobs was clear for me since it would place me among people I knew and would allow me to continue with the activities on the family farm. The rest of my life is history, and I’ve never regretted my decision.
I returned to the life of the school system finding it much as I had left it four years earlier when I went off to college at Penn State. This job didn’t just stop with being the lesson leader in the classroom; there were other responsibilities, including after-school bus duty, lunchroom and study hall monitor, club advisor, and assistant as assigned at sporting and entertainment events – all without supplementary pay in those days. Like most of our volunteer things today, it meant money out of my pocket instead of money onto my paycheck. And it was a good job!
There were also unique and interesting sidelights to the annual social event each year. On one such occasion the 7th graders chose to have a 7th grade roller-skating party at Wings on Wheels near DuBois. Class advisor and reading teacher Ruth Johnson (also the principal’s wife) arranged for two school busses to get us there. All went well until there was a big pile up at the center of the floor and one girl declared she had broken a “wing.” The skaters just continued to circle around her until one of the parent-chaperones took her gently by car to the emergency room – and the party went on.
She soon returned with just a bruise and it was soon time to load the buses for home, only to discover that one bus had a dead battery. Could you imagine the sight of one school bus loaded with kids pushing another similar bus across the parking lot to get it started? It didn’t work but I knew a cousin who lived nearby and who owned a set of jumper cables. On the next Monday morning, we learned that one of our boys had packed a couple bottles with his skating gear and had been selling occasional beverages to his classmates without our knowledge. It was our salvation that we were traveling with the principal’s wife!
Today I am sometimes introduced to a boy or girl about to enter seventh grade and I will say to them, “Oh! That’s great! I was in seventh grade for 33 years. Then I was finally promoted to high school, and I eventually graduated in 1995.” They will typically get a very surprised look on their face expressing the thought that the same time-frame might apply to their own life. I explain that I count graduation to mean retirement in my life.
As a 7th grade teacher, I met most of my students for the first time when they came into my room for the first class of the year. My 35 years must have totaled more than three thousand people. Although I sometimes heard warnings from the previous 6th grade teachers, “Just wait until Billy and Susie get to your class!” I paid little attention because each new student would be new to me; and most would bond with me in their own way. Usually it worked out well for us, but once in a while we didn’t fit well together. I generally figured any conflict came as a result of some problems in the student’s own life not because of something I had done.
Nowadays I am pleased when I meet someone who identifies themselves as a former student. I may surprise them be calling them by name and they seem especially pleased. Otherwise, I have learned to ease my mind by saying, “And who are you?” When I hear their name, a whole flood of memories will usually come to mind, including their appearance when in school and often even where they sat in the classroom. I will often turn to Facebook later and ask to become their “Facebook Friend” so I can learn more about their life and keep in touch in the future.
Back in October, wife and I visited the Brockway Elementary School on a mission from Roseville Grange out of Brookville, our Grange home since Brockway’s Sugar Hill Grange consolidated with them. National Grange has a program called “Words for Thirds” where personal Encyclopedic dictionaries are presented to third graders in many schools all across the United States. Roseville has been giving books to Brookville and Clarion Limestone students for years, and now Brockway has been included. These dictionaries are published by a company in Greensboro, North Carolina, for the kids to leave at the school, carry them in their backpacks, of take them home for their personal study areas.
Last month when we met with the current third graders in the Lower Gym, Mrs. Mary Beth Yahner introduced us and commented that I had been one of her teachers from high school. Jennifer Rogos and Yvonne Ransbottom were in agreement while Breanna Rush just stood by because she was too young when I was around. Whenever such an introduction is given, kids get the urge to hear how their teachers (or their parents, too) behaved when they were in school. My stock answer – when I graduated (retired, you remember) in 1995, I wiped my memory slate (chalk board) clean and now I can only remember the good stuff that my former students had done!
I gave consideration to a package deal that had been offered for retirement in 1993 but my wife asked, “Just what do you expect to do after you retire so young?” Then I set out to find other things to do and, like many retirees, I took on many sidelines (maybe too many) instead of just passing away with boredom. I gave up arithmetic and focused on reading and writing as a professional volunteer with many organizations and some writing for the news like this column.
I extended my interest in computers although I had taught some simple programming classes earlier. One of my often-mentioned classes had included a unit where individual students became components of the computer and performed functions according to a program on index cards. Today I am grateful that much smarter people have written programs that perform many wonderful tasks with my touch on a keyboard.
Wow! Times have really changed but most people are really still the same. The people worth knowing are still watching and listening and remembering. Please do your part to keep those memories really worth remembering wherever you go and whatever you do!