Blackboard Justice : Great Teachers Belong on an Honor Roll All Their Own

MY FRIEND and neighbor Gonzalo Javier is aflame with an idea for a National Teachers Hall of Fame to be established at Emporia State University, Emporia, Kan.

"Imagine, Jack," he told me, "a Hall of Fame for teachers, instead of jocks, where the accomplishments of the molders of children's minds can be honored and perpetuated."

Javier (a graduate of Emporia) gave me some literature published by the university, which is sponsoring the project. Among numerous credentials cited for Emporia is that the campus is centrally located in the heart of America.

The prospectus invokes a poetic image of school days: "Remember the teacher who first introduced you to the poem you can still recite to this day . . . ?"

I do indeed. She was Marien Keyes, who taught English literature at Belmont High School.

She urged us to learn the first few lines of Chaucer's prologue to "The Canterbury Tales," predicting that someday, when we were riding on a bus or streetcar, someone would mention Chaucer and we would be able to astonish him or her by reciting those lines.

I remember the first four lines of the prologue to this day:

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote The droghte of March hath perced to the roote, And bathed every veyne in swich licour Of which vertu engendered is the flour Alas, as long as I rode buses and streetcars, no one ever mentioned Chaucer.

But Marien Keyes was an inspiring teacher. She made us love "Beowulf," Chaucer and Shakespeare, and she steered me into writing as a career--a future that seemed hopelessly fanciful in the Depression year of 1934.

The Emporia prospectus also says: "Remember the teacher who helped you conquer the scary mountain of geometry . . . ."

I also remember my geometry teacher well. He used to throw chalk at me and make fun of my clothes. When he talked, he kept inserting the word portion, which had no meaning. He was senile. I tumbled down his scary mountain; to this day, I don't know an isosceles triangle from a football.

"Remember," the prospectus further asks, "the girl with the long blond hair who sat in front of you every day in fourth grade?"

How could I forget her? Only it was in ninth grade, not fourth. Her name was Ruth Heishman, and she was new in town. I loved her, and I tried to show it by dipping one of her long blond curls in my inkwell. She never spoke to me again.

One of the Hall of Fame's goals would be to "recognize, respect and honor teachers and the teaching profession." Besides recognizing local teachers, the Hall of Fame would nationally honor "a select few who serve as role models for their colleagues across the nation."

This is certainly a noble concept, but I do see some problems in selecting those few. In baseball and football there are relatively few athletes to choose from, and their performances are visible to all and easy to judge. It might not be easy to select a few teachers from the millions who deserve recognition.

"Remember the teacher who looked deep inside you, saw a glimmer of potential and nurtured it until you could recognize your own strength?"

Indeed, there must be teachers like that in every school in the land. Miss Keyes was such a teacher. I was not the only one she inspired and encouraged and directed. And no doubt I was not the only one who learned those first four lines of Chaucer and kept hoping that someone would bring the subject up on a bus. Of course, until it was too late, I always hoped it would be a pretty girl. Wouldn't that have been a cute meet?

Baseball and football players usually are not elected to the halls of fame until their careers are over. If the National Teachers Hall of Fame is going to consider posthumous nominees, I nominate Marien Keyes.

My reservations about this project do not reflect a lack of enthusiasm for it. As Javier said: "I am so proud of the people at my university who dared pursue this dream. William Allen White (the legendary editor of the Emporia Gazette) has got to be smiling."

If you're interested, the address is: National Teachers Hall of Fame, Emporia State University, Emporia, Kan. 66801-5087.

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