Archive for the ‘Memoirs of a Teacher’ Category

Because of Franklin I went to graduate school and became a Special Education Teacher. He changed the direction of my career and my life.

November 3rd, 2017 Comments off

The photo was taken the day I took Franklin home with me and gave him a haircut.  He got to take a bath, get new clothes and new things for school.  Mama and I had a wonderful time and he did too. Franklin Secrest changed the direction of my life, and I remember him with love. 


I was just twenty-one when I began to student teach the third grade children within my youthful reach.

They were bright and clever, their smiles and laughter rang with each story we read and each song we sang.

I thought my future was set for grades ones, two or three, but that was before Franklin stole my heart from me.

It wasn’t even subtle, he just took it right away, this eight year old boy in hand-me-downs every day.

He didn’t know his ABCs and two plus two never made four.  One eye wandered a bit and he pigeoned-toed ‘cross the floor.

Life was difficult for Franklin as he struggled with each new task; but he kept a quiet dignity behind a shy smile of a mask.

The regular class was too hard for him and it was assured he would never succeed.  So they asked me, a brand new teacher, to start a class for kids with special needs.

At first I resisted, it clearly was not what I had dreamed;  I should race with the wind, soar in the clouds, or so it seemed.

But if I didn’t do it, who would?  Would anyone else really care?  Then questions became answers.  It was not an accident that I was there.

Franklin became the first of my special kids from Arkansas to Germany to L.A.  I believe God in his wisdom, used that little guy to start me on my way.

Sadly he drowned at twenty, but his legacy lives on . . . in my life and in the hundreds of children I’ve taught, since I was just twenty-one.

My dear little Franklin, I’ll never forget your sweet face. Because of you so long ago, I found my rightful place.  I’ve spent my life teaching children who find the going rough too.  Very special children I learned to love, through you.

Dedicated to Franklin Secrest, 1955-1975  –  Reprinted yearly on his birthday.

The Deal: A promise kept

October 3rd, 2015 Comments off

This is one of my favorites memories as a teacher of children with learning disabilities. 

The first day the seven year old was in my Resource Room he was shy and withdrawn.  He was in trouble with his parents and his teacher.  He had found learning so hard that he had given up. No one was happy with him and he was a discouraged little guy.

I asked him, “Tramell, do you want to learn to read?”  He nodded yes.

“How much?”img305

He held his hands as far apart as he could.  “This much.”

The serious little face caused me to make a promise, something I rarely did.

“Well Tramell, that is exactly how much I want to teach you to read.  Tell you what I’ll do, I’ll give you my word that if you work as hard as you can, I will work as hard as I can and you WILL learn to read.  Is it a deal?”

We shook hands.  The contract was sealed.

Teaching him to read was easier said than done.  His learning disabilities made it hard for him to remember letters and sounds in sequence.  My wonderful assistant Sally Dey and I used a multi-sensory approach with lots of positive reinforcement. We rejoiced in the slightest bit of progress.  We had never seen a child more determined to learn.

After working together for two years he came in one day and held out a quarter.  Teasing him, I took it and slipped it into my pocket and started to walk away.  When he didn’t say anything I turned around and said, “Hey, I was just kidding, here’s your money.”  I held it out to him.

img302He said,  “No, its yours.  I brought it for you.”

“You did?” I asked.  “Why?”

He looked at me as solemn as a judge,  “It is for teaching me to read.”

I looked at the quarter and looked at him.  I understood. This was payment on that deal we had made.  I clinched my fist around the coin and said, “Thank you Tramell.  Thank you very much.  I’ll keep this and I appreciate you giving it to me.”

When he graduated from the sixth grade he walked to the front of the auditorium and accepted the Presidential Award for the most improved student.  I clapped my hands with pride, and a couple of tears.

He was reading on grade level. Tramell had kept his end of the bargain, and so had I.

Memoirs of a Teacher – “Nicholas”

August 20th, 2015 Comments off

First posted in January, 2009


It was raining that Monday morning when Nicholas burst into the classroom and announced, “I’m the only kid here today!”  He had checked for the other second graders in his Resource group and they hadn’t made it to school yet.  He was delighted.


Nick was a cute little guy with cool clothes and hair always slicked back     into a definite style of his own.  I called him my “seven-year old teenager” for his appearance, and his independent attitude, but mostly because he and I were always in competition for the last word.  

I sat down and relaxed, waiting for the other kids to arrive.

“How was your weekend Nicholas?”  I asked.

Seeing he had my undivided attention, he launched into a full account. 

“I got a scratch,” he said.  When I climbed up on the roof, want to see?”

Before I could answer he turned up his  sweater sleeve to expose a quarter size abrasion.

“Ouch,” I said.  “Would you like a band-aid for that?”

“No,” the little tough guy said and pulled down his sleeve.

 “Nicholas, did you say the roof?”

“Yeah, the roof, you know roof,” he pointed above his head. “Me and my cousin climbed up the thing by the garage to the roof.  I got more scratches, wanna see?”  He didn’t wait for my answer, but pulled up his pants leg to show more fresh marks and bruises.

“Let me get this straight, you were up on top of your house?”


“Nick!” I gasped.

“But I had a rope on,” he answered defensively.

“What was the rope tied to?”

“To me!”

“What else was it tied to?” I asked with concern.

“To the tree above my head.  I have more scratches, wanna see?”

“No.  Listen to me.  That was a very dangerous thing to do.  People get killed falling from rooftops.  Please don’t ever do that again.  If you had been my little boy I would have been very upset.  I can’t believe you were on the roof of your house, my goodness!”

Tolerating my lecture none too patiently, with arms crossed he shifted back and forth from one foot to the other.  I leaned forward and asked, “Tell me Nicholas, just what did your mother do when she saw you up on the roof?”

He uncrossed his arms and took a deep breath.  “She didn’t do nuthin’,  she just said  . . . where’s my camera?”

“She said WHAT?” 

“They’re HERE!” he said and bounced to the door to let the kids in.  I was left searching for words.  He had done it again,  I was speechless.

Nick 1, the schoolmarm 0


En Español


¡Llovía que el lunes por la mañana cuando Nicholas entra en el aula y anunciado, “soy el único niño aquí hoy”!

El había verificado para el otro alumnos del segundo grado en su grupo de Recurso y en ellos no lo habían hecho para educar todavía. El fue encantado. La mella fue un chavo pequeño mono con ropa y pelo frescos siempre espalda de slicked en un estilo definido suyo. Yo le llamé mi adolescente de siete-año para su apariencia y su actitud independiente, pero en su mayor parte porque él y yo fueron siempre en competición para la última palabra.

Yo me senté y me relajé, esperando los otros niños para llegar. ¿”Cómo fue su fin de semana Nicholas”?

Pregunté. Ver él tuvo mi atención indivisa, él emprendió una cuenta llena. “Conseguí un rasguño cuando subí en el techo. ¿Wanna ve”?

Antes que pueda contestar que él tiró la manga de suéter hasta expone una abrasión cuarta de tamaño.

“Ay,” dije. ¿”Querría usted una curita para eso”?

“No,” el chavo duro pequeño dijo y bajó la manga.

¿”Nicholas, dijo usted el techo”?

“Sí, el techo, usted sabe techo,” él señaló encima de la cabeza.

“Mí y mi primo subió la cosa por el garaje al techo. ¿Conseguí más rasguños, wanna ve”? El no esperó mi respuesta, pero se arrancó la pierna de pantalones para mostrar marcas y magulladuras más frescas.

¿”Permití mí consiga esto recto, usted estuvo arriba encima de su casa”?


¡”Nick”! Jadeé. “Pero tuve una cuerda en,” él contestó defensivamente. ¿”Qué fue atada la cuerda a”? ¡”A mí”!

¿”Lo que fue más ató a”? Pregunté con preocupación.

“Al árbol encima de la cabeza.  ¿Tengo más rasguños, wanna ve”?

“No. me Escucha. Eso fue una cosa muy peligrosa de hacer. Las personas son matadas caer de tejados. Por favor no jamás hace eso otra vez. Si usted había sido mi chico pequeño que habría sido trastornado muy. ¡Yo no puedo creer que usted estuvo en el techo de su casa, mi bondad”

! Tolerando mi conferencia ninguno también pacientemente, con armamentos cruzó él cambió de aquí para allá de un pie al otro. ¿Yo me incliné hacia delante y pregunté, “me Dice Nicholas, arriba qué justo hizo su madre cuando ella le vio en el techo”?

El uncrossed sus armamentos y respiró hondo. “Ella no hizo nuthin ‘, ella acaba de decir. . ¿. Dónde está mi cámara”?

¿”Ella dijo LO QUE”?

“Ellos están AQUI”! él dijo y botó a la puerta para dejar entrar los niños. Fui dejado buscar para palabras. El lo había hecho otra vez, yo fui mudo.

La mella 1, la profesora 0

To Err is Human

May 1st, 2015 Comments off

When I was a teacher I gave away erasers with this reminder:

We all make mistakes, just try again.”

‘My Kids’

April 20th, 2015 Comments off

On the bulletin board is the start of a lesson about a boy in Arkansas who corresponded with our resource class for a time.  Writing letters to Jeremy was a good way to get the kids to use their language arts skills.  Naturally, I was happy to teach them about my home state in the process.

When I look at those beautiful young faces of twenty five years ago, I wonder how they are doing today.  I hope they are well and happy.  I hope they are working at fulfilling jobs, and that they are sharing their lives in loving relationships. They were bright, creative, wonderful little kids.

When I look at the young teacher I was, I rest in the fact that I know how hard I tried to meet the needs of my students.  I cared deeply for them and did my best to build them up and give them hope, along with improving their academic skills.

I send them my love and prayers;  hopefully they remember me as fondly as I remember them.

The Teacher

October 12th, 2014 Comments off


                       I discovered this little poem at the beginning of my teaching career

         and kept it with me for the duration.

                     The Teacher 

                    Lord, who am I to teach the way

                          to little children day by day,

               So prone myself to go astray?

                           I teach them knowledge, but I know

                                    How faint they flicker and how low

                         The candles of my knowledge glow.

                        I teach them power to will and do,

                         But only now to learn anew

                                    My own great weakness thru and thru.   

                      I teach them love for all mankind

                                   And all God’s creatures, but I find

                         My love comes lagging far behind.

                       Lord, if their guide I still must be,

                               Oh, let the little children see

                         The teacher leaning hard on Thee.

                              Leslie Pinckney Hill


1)Tim, the Truck, and The Malaleuca Tree

June 28th, 2014 Comments off



Tim and I drove to Manhattan Beach for church in his beautiful new Toyota Tacoma Prerunner .

After church, when we walked to where we were parked,  we passed a large  “Paper Bark”  tree, ( Malaleuca,  native of Australia.)  It was leaning in the direction of the sidewalk.


Large pieces of spongy-soft bark were hanging by the edges as part of the tree’s usual peeling process.  I said “This is perfect!”

With one swift motion I ripped a large piece of the bark  from its velcro-like grip.


“What?  They don’t care, it just falls to the ground!”

Tim’s long legs picked up speed.  I looked back at the tree, I didn’t hurt it, and surely no one would care if I took some bark.  Come on, its bark!

Tim suggested that I put the bark into the bed of the truck, but I argued that it might fly away, so without further discussion, I put it down at my feet in the cab.

We were a few minutes into our twenty minute drive home when Tim glanced down and yelled.

“Mom, spiders!”

“What?”  Dozens of  spiders were scattering out from between the paper thin multi-layers of bark. I started swatting furiously  and stamping my feet.  Dust and spiders flew in all directions.  I was sure they were climbing up my legs.

“Oh no. I’m sorry Tim!”  He,  having just been to church, and being a respectful son, did not say what he probably was thinking.

At the first traffic light I hopped out and threw the bark into the bed of the truck and apologized again. “I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you Tim,  your new truck is dirty and you had it so clean.”

“I know.  I just washed it .”  That made me feel much better.

We drove the rest of the way with eyes peeled for the little stowaways. I felt they were crawling all over me,  “Get her boys!”

When we got home I apologized once more.  Tim said not to worry about it, but I ran the Dust Buster over the carpet and the new red truck was spider-free again.  I hoped.

Why did I want the bark?  For Leon.  Read on . . .

2)The Malaleuca Bark and Leon

June 28th, 2014 Comments off

img464Leon,  pictured on my left, looked dispirited as he entered the Resource Room. “I don’t have my Indian project.” “When is it due?” “Monday.” “Monday?  This is Friday. Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”  He shrugged. It was a home project, but he lived with his grandmother and was on his own most of the time. “Let’s go to the library,” I said. We found a book about his chosen tribe . With the little time we had we cut and glued cardboard to look something like the hut that was illustrated in the book. “Don’t worry Leon, we’ll finish it Monday.”  He nodded wearily.

Okay, so that is the reason that two days later I ripped the bark from the Malaleuca tree.  It was for Leon’s Indian hut. While not a great work of art, the smoky gray bark gave the hut a unique leathery look. We liked it. One piece  became hide drying,   another became a canoe. (The picture doesn’t do it justice.) scan0005We added a  fire pit and  a man with a fishing spear.  

Leon began to smile as he completed the task of labeling everything. “Okay Leon, time to show it to your class.” He took a deep breath, picked up the display, and carried it to his classroom. His teacher, Ms. Walsh, greeted us warmly and enthusiastically asked him to tell the class about his tribe.

For a child with a learning disability, who rarely got anything right, who often was rebuffed for extremely poor hygiene, who struggled to control his temper, this was a big moment.

The children gave their rapt attention.  He spoke softly but confidently.  When he finished, his classmates spontaneously cheered. Even though he had been a difficult member of their third grade class, they appeared genuinely happy for him. I was proud of them. Ms. Walsh asked the class, “What grade should Leon get?”  In unison they agreed, “4!” ( equivalent to an ‘A’) Leon  humbly looked down at the floor, biting his lower lip.

As I walked back to my room I thought of the fiasco getting the bark off the Malaleuca tree and of all those little spiders in the new truck; but when I saw the lift it gave to one little boy’s spirit, who needed it very much, I felt it had been worthwhile.  I was sure Tim (and the tree) would agree.   mwt

Too Much Information! Memories of Vera Price

May 13th, 2014 Comments off

Today I doubt if the school board would allow a student to be in his grandmother’s class, but in 1952, I guess it wasn’t a problem, because Mrs. Vera Price’s grandson, Max Callicott, was in our fifth grade class. I remember this incident well and have laughed about it through the years.  Wonder if Max remembers.

Mrs. Price was demonstrating how small things can affect our appearance, the way we wear our hair, the clothes we wear, etc.  She then took her glasses off to show us how different she looked.  We all agreed she looked ‘funny’ without them.

Max chirped up and said loudly, “If you think she looks funny without her glasses, you should see her without her teeth!”

She stood speechless for a minute, then changed the subject.  We had learned enough for one day!

Missing the Point

February 18th, 2014 Comments off

img457When it came a big snowstorm, the country school teacher wanted to impress on her young students about the dangers of playing too long in the snow.

She dramatically told them, “Now children, you must be careful about colds and overexposure.  I knew a darling little boy only seven years old.  One day he went out in the snow with his new sled and caught cold.  Pneumonia set in and three days later he died.”

The room was silent and then a boy in the back row raised his hand and asked, “Where’s his sled?”

Edmund Fuller

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