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August 4, 2018

Thanks to a Favorite Teacher

As a young first grade student I wasn’t terribly involved in anything beyond figuring out what school was really about. My toys were left at home, alone. I think it was natural that I loved recess and those special ‘rest’ times when Mrs. Armstrong read stories to us about American history, and various fairy tales. Still, play and discovery was also high on my list of interests. In those days the three R’s were barely dealt with because it was job enough to keep a wild bunch of undisciplined children under control. I know I got in trouble early on because I couldn’t stop laughing when Johnny Bill wiggled his ears. Finally I was moved to the girl’s table. That was meant to be an insult, but I kind of liked being around those pretty little sweethearts, not that I was brave enough to even speak to one them. I’m sure some kids were worse behaved than others and that became apparent over time. Consequently, being one of those that had a knack for finding trouble, I was sent to see the principal. I have long forgotten my particular offense, but I quickly learned that I didn’t want to repeat whatever it was, or give new cause to see Mr. Webster. I have no particular memories over my trauma when experiencing corporal punishment, I not only survived but flourished. There’s no doubt that I felt the licks of the ‘board of education’ being applied to my hind-parts, but the disgrace was worse. I was humbled and instantly made LHS front entrance 1962LHS front entrance 1962sorry for anything I might have done. A paddling has a way of doing that. It may have injured my self-esteem, but it wasn’t my self-esteem that stung. Now, due to an abundance of attorneys and well-intentioned parents, corporal punishment is ill-advised and possibly illegal. It was the normal and expected solution of my day and played its part in making America great. It definitely helped me see the advantage to staying within the bounds of prudent behavior.

Vague memories remind me that Mr. Webster was also involved coaching us in semi-organized sports as time and conditions allowed. Part of the playground was paved with blacktop, if I remember correctly, and some was concrete. There was also a great field below where the newer grade school would be built later. The paved yard wasn’t very friendly to falling, but worked well for shooting marbles, and playing hopscotch. Teachers and the principal found it difficult do to anything beyond giving us a basic introduction of rules of a few games. Unheard of today, this old grade school had no track, ballfields, or gymnasium. Our district couldn’t afford such things, but they were common in urban areas. We were left pretty much to run free and use the time to find new forms of mischief.

We played on the maypole, (a bunch of chains around a steel pole), the ‘merry go round’ (something I found could throw you or bang your head if you fell) or in unorganized games of marbles, tag, dodgeball, and keep-away. I think overall that Mr. Webster simply gave up and disappeared into his tiny office. Teachers stood guard to keep the peace and tried to keep activities suitable for our respective ages. Recess was chaotic, at best. I remember one time that ‘field day,’ was planned. We were put through a series of track events including the broad jump, races, and ‘tug-of-war.’ The teachers explained that it was necessary because results had to be sent to Frankfort, the state capitol. I remember being hot and bored. That was true for many of us that could not easily compete. I was slow and clumsy, and couldn’t jump. I still have that difficulty, but then again, it wouldn’t be pretty if this old man tried to jump. You may suspect that I had no love for field day. I’d rather do my studies, thank you.

I suppose recess could have gone very bad considering how wild kids can get when turned loose to expel their energies. Tag could turn into a chase that might lead anywhere in town. Some kids had trouble holding their temper when things didn’t go their way, so fisticuffs occasionally resulted. That happened only a few times, thank goodness. I was personally comfortable that I had a good, likeable nature, so I didn’t fear that I would offend anyone to that degree. I learned about diplomacy early in life. I’m sure that part of my reasoning was Mr. Webster’s paddle had holes drilled into it. Those holes somehow magnified its potential to inflict pain. In spite of rumors spread by wide-eyed kids in whispers, I knew it had no nails protruding to injure its victim. It didn’t need them. The very sight of the weapon and the knowledge that I had pushed too far was enough to bring me to shame. I repented and begged for mercy.   

As I grew older Mr. Webster was replaced as principal by my preacher, Rev. Charles Perry, so I didn’t see Mr. Webster for a time. It was later in high school when he next appeared in my life. According to our yearbook (Scarlack) Frank Webster had earned his masters’ degree and was very well qualified as a teacher from the academic point of view. He had been assigned classes that including government, history, and geography, mainly for upper classmen. He may have held the principal position at LHS for a time prior to Jim Cheek taking that office, but I’m not sure.

I remember that Mr. Webster told war stories to his classes about WWII. He had served in the army during the war. As such, regardless of where he served, he was a uniformed soldier and deserved our respect. I have no idea if he was commissioned, but with his degrees, I would think so. I do remember him telling several stories, but none that dealt with combat duties in either to the two theaters of war. I know he was proud of his service and I was glad he and others served unselfishly. They made sure that I might grow up safe from the horrors prevalent around the world in those tragic years. Life had opened new experiences for him while wearing the uniform, I’m sure. As I said, I don’t know if his education came after or before the war of if he was in the officer’s corps, but he taught in a style more like a college professor than any of my other teachers.

He lived alone, (as far as I know), in an apartment next to the railroad tracks just off the south corner of Powhatan. While I never visited him at home, I did see him on his porch a few times and always raised my hand to wave. I told him on one such occasion that I was interested in learning more about the war. He said he would share stories whenever he had time. Sadly, it never happened.

During the first semester of my senior year I went to his American Government class along with a number of classmates I’d been raised with during my school years. He was decidedly different in his approach than other teachers. He gave lectures, but his quizzes and tests were tough. The first test, or quiz, in the senior class included a number of questions that I found impossible since I had not properly studied and done my homework. So not to turn in a blank page, I made up what I thought were ‘funny’ answers. He was not amused. He gave me an ‘F’ on the test along with some strong corrective words that I’m sure were meant to be instructive and to put me in my place. I had not meant harm, but he was clearly mad and offended.

As I thought about this grade and the rather public ‘put down,’ (as I saw it). I raged and slammed out of his classroom vowing to never attend his class again. I didn’t care about failing to graduate and I declared that if I got him alone, I’d whip him. (Highly unlikely, by the way). For several days, I boycotted the class and hung out in the bookstore just behind the old brick ‘normal college’ building. I continued to threaten to ‘beat him up’ any time someone would ask me if I was going to return to class. One day the Superintendent of Schools, Mr. William A. Cheek, came into the bookstore, put his big hand on my shoulder, and led me aside. He told me that he had invited Frank Webster to meet us both there. When I looked up I saw Mr. Webster standing there in front of me. I saw him at once in his grade-school principal role. He had no paddle, but I immediately broke down and apologized for my ‘stupid’ test responses and the threats that I had made against him. He told me to come back to class and to apply myself. He said he knew that I could make good grades if I tried. We shook hands and went to class. No fellow students in the class ever brought the subject up. I guess they’d figured it had been worked out between us.

True to my promise, I studied and worked hard. I began to earn ‘A’s’ in this and all my other classes. For the first time ever, I made the honor roll! Frank’s final exam was much the same as those I would later take in college. I remember that he told the class to bring nothing into the room over the five-day testing period. Each day he’d announce a subject, supply us with paper and pencils, and leave us to write all we could on that day’s subject.

My best friend, Johnny Bill Boggs, and I studied all night for two or three nights leading up to the first day of testing. Finally, after working on all five subjects we took a chance and guessed that the first would be on a certain one of the five. We then really researched and studied that subject to the exclusion of the others. It turned out that we were lucky because that first day of testing we were correct on the subject chosen. We did quite well on the test. I wrote for an hour and could have written more had time not run out. That evening we overviewed the remaining four subjects and then selected another to really study in depth. Again, the next day we found ourselves lucky again, so again, we did well. The next night we studied for only two hours, then got some sleep. The next few days we turned in pages on the subjects. We both got ‘A’s.’

Frank Webster taught me how to study, so I could perform later in college. I learned to buckle down and learn. He was the best thing to happen to me at a pivotal time in my life. I consider him a great teacher and in his own way, a friend. I still appreciate his efforts to help me.

I know others folks remember teachers such as Bascomb Boyd. He certainly meant a great deal to my classmates. For others, it may have been different teachers that reached out to lend a helping hand to kids in their scholastic careers. I know several that untiringly hung back to help students grasp their lessons. I agree that Mr. Boyd was a special fellow and no doubt a highly-respected teacher, but I never had any classes under him. I therefore knew him less well as many others. As for me, Frank Webster was my hero and is to this day. Good teachers in our lives make a lasting difference.

I don’t want to end this without saying that Bill Cheek’s role in solving my issue and his personal friendship during those years are also appreciated. He was wise enough and willing to solve a problem that could have had a very negative effect on my life. For that, I am grateful.   This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.    

Comments  

0 #1 Bernard Nelson 2018-08-05 15:01
Great article Mike, First of all "Happy Anniversary" to you and your lovely wife. I'm sure she deserves a medal for keeping up with you all these years, ha. ha.
Some of my favorite teachers was your aunt, Shirley Chapman, Opal Lyons, Alva Jordan, Mr. Boyd and of course my football & basketball coaches. If I had to put one at the top of the list it would be, David Thompson my art teacher. His art class on the third floor of the old building was something to behold, all kinds of fun trying to learn art with six-week and semester test at "Rip's" restaurant, WOW. Yester Mr Cheek was the Supt. of Schools back in my day also.

I too am very grateful for dear ole LHS and the teachers who put up with me and trying to teach me about the world, life and living it. Another good one with tons of memories, as always "thanks for the memories".
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