Flipside teachers

The best teacher I ever had was not my favorite. It often works that way.

Teachers who gave us a little extra recess or overlooked a few (many?) of our classroom indiscretions were perceived as the best teachers by the kids.  Teachers who only focused on stuff like learning weren’t as much fun, at least according to the playground chatter. Lilian Harrington, my third grade teacher, was one of them.

My mother and Mrs. Harrington talked more often than I would have liked. I may have imagined myself as the Bart Simpson of St. Thomas the Apostle School, but Mrs. Harrington was not impressed. Discipline in her class was swift and usually fair.  I never learned to sit still but I did learn my times tables.  Just this week I multiplied a three-digit number by a two-digit number – in my head!  I can thank Mrs. Harrington for that.

My love for reading was encouraged by Ms. Peggy McGlynn, my fourth grade teacher.  She discouraged me from reading the “thin books” that we all grabbed from the library for book reports. It was about time, she said, that I start taking out real books from the library.  Thanks Ms. McGlynn. 

I thank my fifth-grade teacher, Sister Theresa Elizabeth, for giving me the freedom to be myself. Unfortunately, that freedom for a 10-year-old was often abused.  It was the first time I ever got detention – and the second time and the third and so on.

Mrs. Agnes Bulmer (Bill of Rights Bulmer) earned her name by assigning us to hand write the ten articles as a punishment.  I honestly memorized the document and wrote extra copies in my spare time.  The Bill of Rights gave us freedom of speech, the right to bear arms and protection from soldiers being quartered in our house. Unfortunately, it did not protect sixth grade kids from unwanted punishment. I must thank her for my understanding of constitutional rights.

Out of all the eligible candidates, my seventh grade teacher appointed me to speak on behalf of Hubert Humphrey in the famous 1968 St. Thomas presidential debate. My girlfriend, Patrice Keegan, stood up for Richard Nixon. I worked harder on that project than any other and thank Sister James for encouraging my public speaking skills.

Sister Agnes Bertrand, our eighth grade teacher, was one tough nun but she may have been our best teacher.  Ninth grade academics were a breeze after a year with Sister Agnes. She once told me I was a smart guy and it was time to stop being a nut (nun speak for clown) and use the skills God gave me. I eventually did and must give the meanest teacher I ever had some credit for being one of the best – but not my favorite.

The two do sometimes go together.  The best and one of my kids' favorite teachers in Allen ISD was Cathy Ellis.  The Vaughan Kindergarten teacher set both of my kids on a successful school career with colors, rhymes and the marriage of Mr. Q and Mrs. U. 

As teacher appreciation activities wind down, take time to remember your favorite teachers and then give some time for the best teachers – even if they weren’t much fun.  Like the sign says: “If you’re reading this – thank a teacher!”

Send comments to flipsidecolumn@gmail.com.

Garrett Gravley is the reporter for the Plano Star Courier, Allen American, Little Elm Journal and The Colony Courier-Leader. Email him at ggravley@starlocalmedia.com with story suggestions.

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