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Memories of the first day of school and favorite teachers

The following reflections on being a student and a teacher come from columnist Bill Herr who taught high school for 32 years. He taught math at Bluffton High School from 1975-1995.

By Bill Herr

Yahoo! School is starting.

When I taught high school I really enjoyed the first day back. The students were excited to see their friends and they often wore new clothes. The teachers were excited. I always asked the students to write what they did that summer. And I asked them to write the names of their siblings in case I had them in school before. They needed to know that I cared about them beyond the classroom. 

I was in their shoes once. Recently my Bluffton High School graduating class of 1957, yes, that long ago, celebrated our 65th reunion. When we get together, the years melt away and it seems like it was yesterday that we graduated. When you grow up together for 12 years, friendships are set in concrete and you remember events and teachers and most everything that

happened. While there is laughter and humor, there is also sadness remembering those that have passed. We had a moment of silence thinking of them. We had their pictures on a table.

Names of great teachers came up in the discussion: Mr. Geiger (biology); Mr. Harris (mathematics); Mr. Overmyer (Vocational Agriculture); Miss Slusser (history) - she always attended every basketball game, sat in the same seat, and applauded the team's efforts on Monday morning. And there was our first grade teacher, Miss Stepleton, who was also the principal of our elementary school. There was the day when half her large class was up front learning reading. The other half, me included, sat at the back playing with clay. 

Suddenly Miss Stepleton stomped out of the classroom and it was obvious she was mad. Just before that, I was sitting in my seat on the outside row talking to my neighbor when I wasn't supposed to.

Less than a minute later, Miss Stepleton came into the room carrying a paddle that seemed to me to be three feet long. During the three or four seconds it took for her to approach my seat, I stopped breathing. Then she walked past me, went up front and paddled my classmate. I won't reveal his name, but his father was a pastor and worked at Bluffton College.

These many years later, I have concluded and have told anyone that I meet that was a first grade teacher, that they are my heroes. They are the most important teachers. They nurture the attitudes of the children in their classes. If salaries are upgraded, they deserve the highest raise. By the time their students reach high school, their influence has made it easier for the teachers there.

For example, when I was chaplain at Mennonite Memorial Home, we had a wonderful resident named Mrs. Stoodt. She had taught first grade 42 years at Beaverdam elementary. She told me this story. A little girl came to her and asked, "Mrs. Stoodt, why do you treat us so nice?" Mrs. Stoodt replied, "Because I like you." I rest my case.

Maybe I'm prejudiced, but I believe that teaching is the most important profession. Professional athletes receive millions of dollars to entertain people. Teachers don't receive nearly what they deserve for all the hard work and extra time they spend for students. And what Tom Brady, Michael Jordan, and your favorite athlete did or does, it doesn't hold a candle compared to what Miss Stepleton, Mrs. Stoodt, and your first grade teacher and all teachers do. Don't read me wrong. I love sports. But those athletes all had teachers and coaches that helped mold them. And we can't forget parents. On the scale of influence, they're the only ones higher than teachers.

I believe all teachers would appreciate the old Chinese proverb: "When planning a year, plant corn. When planning for a decade, plant trees. When planning for life, train and educate people." God bless all teachers. If you're a teacher, stay healthy and have a great year!