— Andy Rooney
U.S. TV & radio writer
Between Common Core, Race to the Top, No Child Left Behind, the School Security Act of 2013, complicated teacher evaluations and a slew of other education-like topics, local folks — especially parents — have had plenty to digest about today’s evolving classroom.
All are ample fodder for debate in the changing landscape of teaching and learning. Some I don’t understand. Not that I agree nor disagree. I just don’t understand. That’s because I’ve never been the brightest light in the chandelier.
One item in particular that did catch my eye recently was a front-page news article in our newspaper announcing that a Mayfield Elementary School instructor has been named a finalist in her division for the Tennessee Department of Education’s 2013-14 Teacher of the Year.
She is Christy Duncan, a 16-year educator who has spent the last 12 in Cleveland City Schools. Over at Mayfield, she teaches English as a second language.
I think I last met Christy years ago when she was just a school-aged youngster herself. I can’t even remember the occasion, but the chance meeting occurred because I knew her dad, a likable fellow named Jim Hogue, a former advertising salesman here at the Cleveland Daily Banner. I worked with Jim — albeit in different departments — during my first stint at the newspaper before the turn of the century. For the curious, that would be 1977 to ’89.
As newspaper folks sometimes do, Jim went on to bigger and better challenges, as did I. One key difference is I came back ... still not sure what I was thinking.
As I recall, whatever Jim did he always gave it his best. Back in the day, we used to play some interoffice basketball and even scrimmaged the Cleveland Kiwanis Club once. On another occasion, we signed up for a Golden Gallon benefit news media softball tournament over at Mike Burke Park. Seems like we beat the old Chattanooga News Free Press, but were then eliminated by KZ106 Radio. I’m sure fault lay with the umpiring.
As I said, Jim believed in quality effort. That’s why, upon hearing he had entered real estate following his newspaper years, I sought him out. Within a few days, Jim sold us our first home, in ’92. Some 21 years later, it’s still our first home. So to quote one of my favorite expressions when in the presence of an English teacher, “He done good.”
And that’s today’s point — teachers named Duncan, how they comfort young students and my memories of Day 1 as a first-grader way back in August 1961. The scene was a red-brick schoolhouse in Falkner, Miss. Back then, the elementary, junior high and high school were all on the same site, but in different buildings. I just assumed you wanted to know.
Like Jim’s married daughter, my first-grade teacher was named Duncan. We kids called her Mrs. Duncan. Funny thing about elementary schools back in those days. Teachers all had the same first names. The ladies were “Mrs.,” although to us country youngsters it was more like “Meuzzz.” And the men were all named “Mr.,” or “Mistuh.” Of course, our school had no male teachers. All female except for the principal, Mistuh Hellums ... or something like that. I had a crush on his first-grade daughter, Cathy. A lot of good that did me. I still had to learn cursive and even got the occasional paddling. It was still legal back then.
But don’t be alarmed. I probably deserved it.
I recall some of our first day. In those days, a tiny, rural schoolhouse like ours had no kindergarten. We launched our textbook careers in the first grade and never looked back. Recess and lunch were my favored times, but I later embraced the mandatory afternoon nap.
Mrs. Duncan was our first vision of education that first day. One or both parents had to bring us to school to meet the teacher and to make sure we understood the meaning of “stay.” On Day 2, we hopped the big yellow buses like everyone else ... to school and back home.
From my yearling perspective, Mrs. Duncan looked old. I figured about 80 or 90. By today’s standards, she was probably 35. But that’s just how kids saw adults.
On the morning of my first day, Mom was already at work at the blue jean factory. She operated some kind of hot, steamy press. So Dad, a carpenter who never knew the site of his next job, took me to school. I don’t remember a lot ... I mean, that was 52 years ago. But I do recall a room filled with kids, little desks, plenty of unfamiliar faces and Mrs. Duncan.
One kid was crying. He had pale skin, ear-to-ear freckles and short red hair. Heck, all the boys in north Mississippi had crew cuts in ’61. It was just a thing. Actually, it was Dad’s clippers.
Later I was to learn the crying boy’s name was James Brown — not THAT James Brown ... the other one. Although I wasn’t crying, I suppose I had every reason to be. My life was taking the same unplanned somersault as his.
To give me something to do while Mrs. Duncan mingled with parents, Dad urged me to go talk to James and help to calm him down. Still three months shy of turning 6, I had little experience in psychology so I did what little boys do. I just started talking. I have no idea about what ... maybe the weather, maybe “The Lone Ranger” or “Superman,” maybe the plight of little boys with short red hair who had school thrust upon their late-summer routines.
Before long, James dried up.
I caught a glimpse of Mrs. Duncan looking in our direction. She smiled. James blushed. To borrow one of Dad’s favorite expressions, I just kind of stood there “... like a knot on a log.”
I wasn’t happy when Dad said he was leaving for the day. I wanted to come along. But “stay” meant “stay.”
So I did. As did James. And Mrs. Duncan became our favorite adult in the whole school.
She was a kind lady, especially when surrounded by a group of scared kids.
Maybe that’s why Christy Duncan is being nominated as “Teacher of the Year” — because she cares for the kids and she teaches for a cause.
Good teachers do that kind of thing.
My Mrs. Duncan sure did.
I know James would agree.