INFLUENTIAL VISIT by
was feeling somewhat anxious as I stepped off the shuttle bus that gray January
day. My lightweight jacket did little to protect me from the damp chill that permeated
the atmosphere. The bus I had boarded just a few minutes before made a run each
weekday taking college students from East Texas State Teachers College to and
from Commerce High School. I was enrolled in an education course required for
those of us earning a teaching certificate. We were required to observe a certain
number of classes at the high school. That day in my junior year would be my first
experience as an observer. I would be arriving after the last class period of
the day had already begun.|
Postcard courtesy www.rootsweb.com/ %7Etxpstcrd/
|It was forty-nine
years before Homeland Security legislation; I was not even required to register
at the principal's office as a visitor. I had been given a room number, and it
was my responsibility to find the room on the first floor where Miss Tula Milford
was conducting a ninth-grade English class. I entered the room with trepidation
and took a seat near the door, which was located at the back of the room.|
I enrolled at East Texas State Teachers College two years before, I was considering
journalism as a major. In our rural community my only previous contact with a
reporter was with a neighbor who submitted a column to the Hopkins County Echo,
a weekly published in Sulphur
Springs. Her report consisted of references to out-of-town visitors who attended
funeral services and other items of local interest. Occasionally a student from
the high school would give her a list of the names of the officers elected by
a certain class for that year. This information would appear in the following
issue of the Echo.
My parents, who had no formal education, expected me
to earn a teacher's certificate. Almost all the people my parents knew who had
gone to college had become teachers in public elementary or secondary schools.
Exceptions were the Sparks brothers, who earned Ph.D.'s and taught college classes--
one in history at Texas Woman's University, the other in English at Duke. These
brothers were considered so eccentric by the people of the community that they
were hardly role models. For my parents, the concept that anyone who grew up in
Saltillo, where I graduated
from high school, would or could become an attorney, a medical doctor, or a dentist
was remote. Besides, no one had the money to finance a student in the schools
that educated professionals. Because of their expectations, I never told my parents
that I was considering a major in journalism. They would never have related to
my glamorized idea of news gathering and reporting, which was based primarily
on radio drama and the movies. Although in my sophomore year I began to follow
the curriculum required for teacher certification, I still was not convinced that
I wanted to become a teacher. As a junior, I found myself on the teacher-certification
track, preparing to observe classes at the only high school in Commerce.
nervousness I had experienced earlier that morning began to subside once I took
a seat in Miss Milford's classroom. Neither she nor the students appeared to notice
that I had entered. Tula Milford was a woman in her early sixties. She wore rimmed
glasses, and her gray hair, which appeared to be rather long, was pulled into
a bun. She wore a gray dress with a broad white collar. When I entered the room,
she was sitting behind her desk. Because her glance never met mine, I assumed
that she was accustomed to observers entering the room after she had begun class.
Except for the sound of Miss Milford's voice and the soft, intermittent
hissing sound of the steam radiators, the room was quiet. It felt comfortably
warm in contrast to the chill I experienced immediately upon stepping off the
bus. The windows of the classroom looked out on an enclosed space surfaced with
asphalt. The red brick wall across appeared stark in its plainness; I soon realized,
however, the business of that particular classroom did not depend on accouterments.
Open before her was a textbook from which Miss Milford was reading Edwin Arlington
Robinson's "Miniver Cheevy." When she finished reading the poem, she chuckled
about the folly of Cheevy's wishing he had been born in another century. She pointed
out the unappealing sounds of the first syllable of Cheevy's name and commented
on the effort required to pronounce Miniver Cheevy as opposed to the relatively
less effort required to pronounce a name like Allen, for example. Miss Milford
pointed out that Robinson must have equated that difficulty with the difficulty
Cheevy faced in coping with his life.
These fourteen-year-olds were attentive
while Miss Milford read "Richard Cory," a second poem by Edwin Arlington Robinson.
One student questioned why a man with wealth and good looks would ever take his
own life. Most of the students were attentive, and several participated in the
discussion. In my mind, I contrasted the behavior of these students with the disruptive
behavior of some of my former classmates just a few years before when I was in
the ninth grade.
After Miss Milford called a halt to the class discussion,
she allowed the students to work independently on reading and writing assignments
for the week. I observed that most of them opened notebooks and began to write.
Others were reading library books. One by one, several of the students raised
their hands. Miss Milford motioned for each to come to her desk at intervals.
Each took a sheet of paper or a notebook with him/her. The class period ran its
course in a most orderly fashion.
As I noted the faded navy blue skirt
of the girl seated across the aisle from me and the scuffed brown loafers of a
boy in the desk in front of the girl, I experienced a feeling of appreciation
for the concept of public education. I suspected the skirt the girl wore had belonged
to an older sister or to a cousin and that the boy's loafers were the only pair
of shoes he owned. Yet these students, whose parents probably paid less in school
taxes than the majority of citizens in the state, had an opportunity to learn
from a teacher as qualified and as dedicated as a teacher in a private school.
The parents of these two students probably could not have afforded the tuition
charged at a private school.
I left Miss Milford's classroom that day
with the feeling that I wanted to continue my pursuit of a teaching certificate.
Perhaps, after all, I could find personal satisfaction as a classroom teacher.
As I boarded the bus that would take me back to the campus, I realized that the
goal of becoming a teacher was no longer influenced only by what my parents expected,
but one that I myself was now engaged in.
shoe horses, don't they?"
28, 2007 Guest Column