Monday, October 5, 2015

Teachers' Honor Roll

There has been a little buzz in the community for the past few months about a Teachers’ Honor Roll that is being planned for the new addition to the Lawton Memorial Library in La Farge.  With construction on that library addition advancing quite rapidly in the past week and as the new building starts to assume its shape, the interest in the honor roll seems to be increasing as well.  Recent donations have increased the number of names on the honor roll to fourteen and another sixteen have also been nominated for the honor.
            The Friends of the Lawton Library came up with the idea of the Teachers’ Honor Roll as a way to honor teachers who had made a difference in their students’ lives.  The honor roll was also devised to raise money for the new addition as the Friends organization was charged with the task of collecting funds to pay for the project.  (That fund-raising is ongoing as the money needed to pay for the completed addition and renovation of La Farge’s library still has not been reached.  There will be more on how you can help with that fund-raising at the end of this pithy little doggerel.)  As it turned out, the idea of a way to honor teachers and raise some money in the process has worked out quite well as attested by thirty teachers being named for inclusion to the honor roll and over $10,000 being raised for the library expansion.
            I am fortunate to be included on this new Teachers’ Honor Roll.  Family, friends and former students backed my inclusion on the list.  It was particularly gratifying to hear from several of my former students, who told me how my being a teacher for them had made a positive impact on their lives.  (One young lady’s glowing words about my presence in the development of her life were so powerful that they brought me to tears.)
            Anyway, all of this teachers’ honor roll discussion and personal inclusion has me thinking some about my career in teaching.  I think that I knew pretty early on in my life that I wanted to be a teacher and I am very sure that some of the teachers that taught me in those formative years had significance in my choice of that career.  Having taught in public schools for over thirty years and then continuing to teach in some capacity or other since my “retirement” in 2002, it seems obvious that I made the correct choice for my career path.  That personal history as a teacher made me think about the role models that must have been before me in my youthful days as I decided to become a teacher.
            Georgia Evans is another teacher that is included on the new Teachers’ Honor Roll.  I actually nominated her for inclusion on the Lawton Library honor roll and subsequent donations from her family, former students and teaching colleagues placed “Miss Evans” on the prestigious list.  I use the term “Miss Evans” because over the years, that is what I always used when addressing her, even when I was a colleague of hers teaching at La Farge Schools.  (Looking back on this, I now understand why many of my former students still have a hard time calling me “Brad” when I admonish them for using “Mr. Steinmetz”.  My deepest apologies to my former students, who have heard this from me, but FINALLY, I understand where you are coming from!)
            I was a member of the first class that Miss Evans taught at La Farge.  We were sixth-graders and Miss Evans, who had taught at country schools for all of her career, came to La Farge, I believe, when the Ottervale School, where she was teaching, closed in 1957.  She came with a certain reputation, as she was a stern taskmaster in the classroom.  I liked schoolwork and even flourished at it a little bit, so Miss Evans’ no-frills style of classroom work did not faze me much.  What did captivate me about our new sixth grade teacher was her performance outside of the classroom, especially during recess and noon hour.  Unlike most of her teaching colleagues of that time and place, Miss Evans was “All-In” when it came to her student’s playground activities.
            As I remember it, the recess and noon hour of that first day of school were very different than previous ones.  Miss Evans was very interested as the boys gathered to play a game of softball.  What we found amusing was that she wanted to participate in the game as well.  So, to placate the new teacher, the boys reluctantly agreed to let her play.  But she also insisted that the girls be allowed to play as well!  Coming from a country school background, Miss Evans was used to both boys and girls playing.  With small enrollments, it was a matter of practicality to have enough to play the game. 
But to call for that co-ed approach at metropolitan La Farge - now this was getting ridiculous!  The guys and the gals of that age simply did not participate together in ball-playing activities (although we did have dandy co-ed participation occasionally in “Cowboys & Indians” and Pump-Pump-Pull-Away).  There were plenty of boys to make up sides for a softball game, but our new teacher insisted, so the girls, with big grins on their faces, joined in the game of kitten ball.
Then Miss Evans insisted that she be the first batter in the noon hour softball game.  What next?  Some of the boys chided their new teacher and asked if the pitcher should roll the ball along the ground so she might be able to hit it.  But Miss Evans said no to that, just pitch it in there as usual.  Then some of those same smart-alek boys said all of the outfielders should move in close because teacher wouldn’t be able to hit it far anyway.
On the first pitch, Miss Evans hit a “Moon Shot” to deep centerfield!  Those called-in outfielders scrambled back to make a play, but by the time the ball got back to the infield, Miss Evans, with those long easy strides of hers, had easily rounded the bases and touched the plate for a home run.  The girls broke out in squeals of glee at their new teacher’s exploit, while most of the boys stared in gaped-mouth silence.  The gender barrier had been smashed for our noon hour softball games.
Miss Evans continued to stretch our educational experience that year.  She took us up to the park for tree identification lessons.  We went to neighboring fields and woods for our Science Class plant ID’s.  In the winter, she led us up onto a neighboring farmer’s hill for sleigh riding during noon hours.  The following spring, she somehow finagled a bus and afternoons away from school for our class to play a softball schedule, playing the country schools around La Farge.  We traveled to play games at Bloomingdale, Elk Run, Fairview, Salem, Buckeye Ridge, Weister Creek and Rockton.  She managed the team to a near perfect record (dang Mary Anne Daines and that team from Potts Corners!) and endeared herself to the entire class, since everyone got to go to the games, whether you played or not.
Miss Evans loved local history and would take the class on history hikes to Seelyburg, her hometown and where she still lived when she taught our class.  I think that I developed my interest in history from her as I listened to her stories of Seelyburg, the old lumbering town on the Kickapoo River.  I also was always impressed with the passion that Miss Evans showed in her teaching.  Her job was important to her and she always strove to be engaged in her teaching and to keep her students engaged as well.  It was where the first seeds were planted in my thinking about becoming a teacher.  I had many more teachers along the way that would influence me towards making a career in education (and hopefully I can relate some of that at another time), but it was Miss Evans who began that process for me.

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Here is a list of nominated teachers for the Lawton Memorial Library Teachers’ Honor Roll: Kevin Alderson, Bonita Dorschied, Mary Downing, Gerry Drake, Betty Ecklor, Ann Erlandson, Jerry Hesselberg, Laurie Hesselberg, Jeanne Kraus, Bea Lee, Karen Lee, Geneva McGeorge, Al Oaklief, Dave Sarnowski, Robert Sutton, and Mary Warner.  If you would like to contribute to help advance a teacher who made a difference in your life, donations for your favorite teachers can be made at the library, or by mailing your donation to Friends of the Lawton Memorial Library, 118 N. Bird St., La Farge, WI 54639.  Donations can also be made online by going to  Check the Friends of Lawton Library webpage or on Facebook for more information on the teachers already on the honor roll.
            So, as the lady might say, “C’mon people, vote for your favorite teacher and move them on up to the honor roll!”