I remember my first-grade teacher's name and that I liked her.
I also remember Miss Dudley, my third-grade teacher in Champlain, N.Y., who on a winter morning in 1948 received a whispered message in the classroom from the principal and then told me that I must hurry home. I knew before I got there that my father had died from the vehicle accident he had been in the night before.
My fourth grade was spent in some school in Portland, Maine, and I remember little of it, but Miss Lambert, my fifth-grade teacher in Vineyard Haven, Mass. was the reason I liked to go to school.
My sixth-grade teacher humiliated me in class on one occasion. As vivid as this memory is, I still think of Mrs. Mitchell as one of my best teachers.
While in the seventh grade, I made my decision to become a teacher. It was not the result of a carefully thought out process, but rather the hero worship of a 12-year-old for Mr. Townsend, my history and homeroom teacher.
Mr. Townsend was over 6 feet tall and wore his hair in a “crew cut.” He had come to Tisbury High School directly after graduating from Tufts University where he had played tight end on the football team. He was an imposing physical specimen. His glare, accompanied with his hands on his hips, would immediately quiet a noisy classroom.
If you were particularly troublesome, he might physically twist your ear (a socially acceptable discipline of the time) as he escorted you from the room. Even when this occurred, you knew he cared about you and the despair of disappointing him was more severe than the physical pain.
He was friendly and laughed with you. He seemed to be everywhere; in the hallways; watching with a smile as we played baseball during recess or soccer during lunchtime; in the study hall or another teacher's classroom at the exact time we had gotten noisier than we should; and at every school event.
I don't believe Mr. Townsend ever knew of my “hero worship” for him. I admired him from afar and he never treated me differently than he did the other students. I now know that as a member of a single-parent household, I was searching for a male role model and I found it in Mr. Townsend. I decided then I would teach history to seventh graders when I “grew up.”
The small schools I attended were safe, friendly, disciplined and caring. The teachers knew each other, worked together, cared for the school and were involved with their students and the community.
The large high school I attended and graduated from was far different. The teachers simply stood in front of the class and did their job. You entered the classroom and left, with nothing worth remembering in-between. Teachers may have wanted to do more, but I do not recall any who did. It was a place that, sadly, had no major impact on my life. My education survived only through parental guidance and self-motivation.
Teachers were an important part of my life. They were the reason I liked going to school. I was safe with them being in charge of a portion of my life. I believed and trusted them. I now know those that influenced me greatly shared a love and a passion for what they were doing.
They were good at it because they thought beyond themselves and believed their efforts would make a positive difference in the lives of their students and in tomorrow's world.
They had the satisfaction of knowing they had been provided an opportunity in life that was honorable and were committed to the teaching of those entrusted to their care.
In 2003, at age 65, I became “Mr. Townsend.” I taught history to seventh graders at Centennial Middle School.