Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Personal "Thank You"...

For me, American Education Week has always served as a time to devote some time to think about those teachers whose contributions have made a significant difference in my life. Over the years, I have actually picked up the phone to call someone whom I have not seen not talked to in decades, yet have thought about often, to tell him or her how thankful I am that our paths crossed.

During this American Education Week, I would like to use this space to thank three extremely special people:

Judy Stinnett was my English teacher during my junior year at Tuscaloosa County High School. She taught me to write. Her standards were a mile high, yet she had this incredible way of making them seem reachable. I have not seen her since graduation 30 years ago. Still, I think about her each and every time I sent down to write…whether the task at hand is a term paper, an article for publication, my dissertation, a book, or even the words you see right now.

As a high school student, I was known best for having an analytical mind. At the same time, I was an accomplished musician and wound up majoring in music. I credit Judy Stinnett with having connected the two seemingly opposite traits and allowing the result to come out through the written word.

I have no idea where Mrs. Stinnett is today and would love to be able to tell her what I am telling you. Perhaps by grace, the power of technology, and a little luck, she will wind up reading these words herself.

Harry Anderson was my first principal. I was all of 22 years old when I became band director at Montgomery’s Goodwyn Jr. High. Mr. Anderson had a knack for saying good things behind your back, and saying them to people he knew would pass along his words to you. I had been at the school for only a week or so when word got back to me about how pleased he was with his new band director. “He beats me to work and he always wears a tie,” was a memorable line that was reported back to me. Well, it’s barely 6:30 A.M. as I am writing this post from my office. I am wearing a tie. That’s just part of the influence Mr. Anderson had on me.

The band at Goodwyn flourished, and I credit Harry Anderson with a large part of that. I knew, as did every teacher in that school, that we could count on Harry Anderson for support. I could go about my job with confidence knowing that if things got rough, I wasn’t going to go through it alone. Right or wrong, I knew Harry Anderson would be there.

When I became an assistant principal and then later a principal, support for teachers was one of the things which seemed to stand out and to be appreciated. Little did my faculties know, I was doing it the only way I knew how…the way Harry Anderson did it. I still hear that voice from two decades ago, and have often found myself using the same phrases he used. Perhaps the support for teachers is in part my way of saying “thanks” to the one who made a tough job easy for me. I wish every first-year teacher could begin a career with someone like Harry Anderson.

Dr. Henry Clark can clearly be called my mentor as a school administrator. I had often said there was no way in the world I would ever want to be a principal…and then along came Henry Clark during my 5th year as band director at Pizitz Middle School. He opened my eyes as to the difference one person with a vision could make on the culture of a school. When I approached him about my own interest in venturing into school administration, he could not have been more encouraging.

Dr. Clark was only at Pizitz for two years before being to the central office. In those two years, I learned more about school administration that many learn in an entire career. He gave me projects to carry out, but mostly he imparted the advice that one simply does not find in textbooks. He was calm and composed, except for those calculated times when something else was needed to get a point across. He was a problem solver, and encouraged that in those around him.

From the outside, it seemed he had his finger on everything. The truth was, I never had more freedom to operate that I did with Dr. Clark. When I approached him with an idea, there was no talking him into letting me take the reins. The message was always clear: I was the expert, and if I had thought it through and it seems like a good idea to me, I should go forward. He was there to help, but had no intention of doing my job for me, so my having planned and thought the situation through was crucial then, and has been crucial during my days in school administration. We all knew we could approach Henry Clark with a problem, but at the same time, we were expected to also come with at least a partial solution. I don’t know if Dr. Clark is the smartest man I have ever known. I am quite sure he is the wisest. My career would have been very different had it not been for his influence.
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