Day 3 — Climbing the Education Ladder to a Brighter Future
I hope you have been enjoying my teacher tribute, so far, and have found helpful information on the sites listed in the articles. Teaching is important and should be given more priority than it receives in our society. To teach, is to give so much of yourself for the betterment of everyone’s future. Now, on with the story.
Ending 6th grade in Harleyville, South Carolina, brought about a difference in how I saw school. All of our teachers, that year (1979, my first year in town), seemed like they were preparing us for a very different world than we already knew. The next step in our evolution was — Harleyville-Ridgeville High School. They spoke of how our lives would change and we should begin thinking about where we wanted to go, and what we wanted to accomplish, in life. And, they were sending us away with a formal affair.
There was to be a 6th grade graduation at the end of the school year and we would be on our way to the high school. We even took a tour of our future alma mater, somewhere near the end of April, that school year.
Graduation? At this stage in my knowledge, there were only two times for graduations — high school & college. But, there we were, walking our way in formation, headed for the rest of our lives.
It was a special event in my life. I really felt like I was leaving behind the child’s world. Boys wore the usual black pants, socks, shoes and tie, with a white shirt, but the girls wore long white dresses sewn by their parent, grandparent, aunt or family friend. My mom was a seamstress, so it wasn’t difficult for her to accomplish my gown. The material was white eyelet cotton, the dress tied with a satin sash. Ironic that the attire was sweet and simple, since I saw myself not just graduating from 6th grade, but entering a more mature world into which I would find my destiny. I was ready for it, too. Now, I’m glad that I was ready, because lessons were coming that I didn’t see on the horizon.
Junior high, though it was located in the high school building, was set slightly apart from the 9th-12th grades. Everyone mingled in the morning before first bell in the parking lot or rear concession area of the campus. That first month of 7th grade was a rush of so many emotions, but it turned into a normal routine and flowed through to the end of 8th grade.
At H-R, it seemed that most of the teachers had been there for many years. There was even a mother/daughter set of teachers: Mrs. and Miss Jenkins. In retrospect, it was a typical setting for a high school. Nothing missing or nothing extra, but school life really did change for me.
Now, about Mrs. and Miss Jenkins. I loved Miss Jenkins; she was a forward-thinking woman, with great confidence and beautiful vocal talent. She was my English (now called ELA) teacher and my music teacher; she also conducted the school chorus. I always found myself seriously focusing on what she had to say. I gave her great reverence and in some ways, I think I tried to model myself like her. I’m sure there were many girls in our school that felt this way about her.
She had a presence that made you want to know what she knew. I remember she pulled me aside after class once, concerned about a poem I had written on assignment. As my words were just my own creative license, she didn’t have anything to be concerned about, but she still took the time to check on me to make sure I was okay. She complimented my poem and understood the meaning I was trying to convey. Miss Jenkins helped me move forward in life, with more serious conviction, and I credit her with shaping my thinking; even to this day.
Now, Miss Jenkins’ mother, Mrs. Jenkins, I don’t really remember what she taught, but I’m sure by the time I met her, she had taught about every subject in the school, except gym. And she was stern enough to beat out any coach I ever had. I know I didn’t have any of her classes before she retired and I made a point to never get on her bad side. Once I was a senior, I understood how this woman could be the mother of the other and how much the younger Jenkins was just like her mother, but with a much softer side. Both of these ladies were Super Teachers and I am all the better for them having been in my life.
The summer before I went into 9th grade, I moved back to Orangeburg to live with my dad, stepmom and my little sister, Stacey. So, my freshman year was spent at Orangeburg-Wilkinson High, home of the Bruin’s. I enjoyed my first year in high school and O-W seemed like a world away from H-R. It was a much larger school and there were more than 200 kids in my grade. A vast difference from the class of about 75, I had just left.
Three teachers stand out to me so much from my 9th school year. Mr. Kuvoto, my Media Communications teacher, Mrs. Addison, my College Prep Language Arts teacher, and Mrs. Deery, my Quest Psychology teacher. Opportunities were so great at O-W. It was Mr. Kuvoto that gave me such an awareness of the media arts (journalism, photography, advertising design, film production and all forms of news media) that it would later become my career path as a journalist, photographer and print designer, and lead me to owning this website. Thank you so much. It has made all the difference in my life.
Mrs. Addison was not far off from retiring, but I was lucky that I had her class before she did. She opened my eyes to the great works of fiction, poems, fables and stories in literature. She spurred on an already sizable appetite for reading and writing, and I also believe she was a great part of the career choices I would come to make. Look; I’m still writing, right now, and I so enjoy good reading when I have the time.
“Mrs. Deery is having a big influence over you, don’t you think,” my stepmom, Janice, would later tell me. She was right (I also saw Janice as a great teacher and role model). Mrs. Deery did redirect my ways of thinking and I am all the better because of it. Her class was the most unschooled thing I had ever experienced in school. There were no desks in the classroom, no text books and we sat on the floor. We kept a daily journal and read from it often in class. Most students in the class bonded with her. She was easy to talk to and was genuinely concerned about her kids. She was the only teacher I ever did anything with outside of school — we went to the SC State Fair in Columbia and my first experience was so eye-opening. She found a way to teach me lessons while strolling through the dazzling lights and corn dog aromas. I think of her often when I am making a difficult decision. Her words about integrity have stayed in my mind and persuaded my choices many, many times in my adulthood.
Each of these teachers presented a new doorway for me to walk through; it is because of their dedication to teaching and the ways they found to reach inside me that pulled the better Gwen out into the great wide open. Come back, if you would. I have another group of educators that I want to share my memories of, with you.