Teachers: Great role models even in small schools

By: Lynda Hollenbeck

Teachers oftentimes are society's unsung heroes.
What profession is there that could possibly have a greater impact on more people than the one in which dedicated souls, day after day, year after year, decade after decade, mold young minds?
It's not likely that you will find them listed among the richest men/women in America or included on any similar listing, but teachers are indeed special.
It's good when school districts and various associations honor their teachers for their service and achievements because they are more than deserving.
Recently, as I was writing a story about retiring employees in the Benton district, it triggered memories of some of the teachers who helped shape my life.
I grew up in a small school district in a small town, which some people believe automatically will have less to offer based on the numbers alone. In my opinion, this is an unfair judgment.
It is, in fact, the only issue that I can recall in which former state Sen. Shane Broadway and I differed in our opinions. This occurred when the state Legislature, bent on consolidation, determined that a school district had to reach a specific number before it could remain independent.
If those numbers had been in place during my growing-up years, I probably wouldn't have benefited from the instruction and talents of the following educators because our district would have been considered "too small" to stand alone:
•Sue Anna Yarbrough, my junior high English teacher. Even after many years of experience, every summer she would return to the University of Chicago to sharpen her skills.
Miss Sue Anna was charming and brilliant, yet she taught in tiny little Cotton Plant, where she gave me a background for grammar, sentence construction and general writing principles that formed the basis for what I do every day — write.
•Celia Burrows, my high school English teacher, who continued to make writing and literature interesting and challenging for me and others.
Also extraordinary, she challenged those of us who had the interest and drive to be better students and helped prepare us for success in college and beyond.
•Paula Moore, my cousin, who was my speech/drama teacher the first year she taught.
Another sharp-witted individual who chose education as her profession, Paula was endowed with a unique gift.
Humor was the hallmark of her teaching style. She could have taken the instructions for assembling paper clips and made the class interesting. With a slight lift of her eyebrow, she could silence a group of rowdy teenage boys who adored her and did not want to invoke her wrath.
She made learning fun, which should be a high priority for every teacher.
•Coach Rex Pearce, who taught math courses along with coaching football and basketball.
Math wasn't my favorite subject, but strangely enough, he helped me learn to love geometry. I could solve problems quickly, but not by conventional means.
It would mystify Coach Pearce, but he would acknowledge that I was right. He'd shake his head, sigh loudly and say, "It's right. I don't know why it's right, but it is. I just don't see why you can't work problems the way other people do."
I simply couldn't see the steps Coach Pearce said I should have seen, but I thoroughly enjoyed problem-solving my way. I posed a challenge for him, but he never tried to dissuade me from my unorthodox style. He even encouraged my independent streak.
•Mary Elizabeth Banks, who taught public school music and taught me piano privately. She had been recommended for conservatory training, but decided to forgo that life for what she found in Cotton Plant among family and friends.
She had tremendous influence over thousands of young people, exposing them to "good music" that many likely never would even have heard had it not been for her. Many learned to appreciate the classical works of the masters because of her.
I could go on and on, because there were so many others like these.
The point I'm making here was coined by P.T. Barnum a lot of years ago: Bigger isn't necessarily better.

Lynda Hollenbeck is senior editor of The Saline Courier.