9/05/2008

Strolling down memory lane...

Last Sunday, Michael had his high school coach on his BlogTalkRadio show, Shaman's Hand. They had a great talk about Coach Ron Klestinski's tenure at Roncalli High School in Manitowoc, WI and his induction into the Wisconsin Football Coaches' Hall of Fame this year.

Over the past few months I've also re-established communication with a high school teacher whose influence I still feel today. Susan Harrison was a fairly new teacher when I began high school at Mid-Carolina in Prosperity, SC in 1980. She was a recent graduate of the University of South Carolina and unlike many young teachers she had a presence in the classroom that demanded attention and respect. She was quick witted, extremely smart and had a passion for her subject that was infectious. I suppose it didn't hurt that she also taught history, which was my passion as well.

I took my first class under Ms. Harrison when I was a Junior in 1983. She taught me Advanced Placement History which was a college level class. The class was small, there might have been about 15 of us, give or take a couple. This meant we had a lot of time for individual attention and discussion. Ms. Harrison (as I knew her then) was also a stickler for writing and research and assigned a number of major research papers during the year.

I can still hear Ms. Harrison's voice at times when I recall one of her lessons. After all, how many U.S. History teachers back in those days bothered to talk not only about our history but the history of countries with which we had conflicts? Recently, during the trouble in Georgia with the Russians I could clearly hear her say during class: "To understand Russian foreign policy you must understand theirs is a history of invasion and conquest. The psychology still drives what they do in foreign policy."

During that same formative nine months I also had one of the best English teachers in my life. Dorothy "Dot" Lovelace had a reputation for being tough and brooking no tomfoolery. I admit, I was a little intimidated to learn she would be my instructor. However, I found that she actually had a great sense of humor that was dry and good natured and could hold her own with any class clown. She also was one of the toughest writing critics I'd ever had. In fact, this blog post would have received an "F" based on the fact I've already used passive verbs several times.

"Hot Dot" as we irreverently called her, shaped my style and gave me a lifelong love of writing and communication. To this day, when I write reports for SPI I follow her style guidelines.

Likewise, I can trace my insistence on accuracy and supported statements to Ms. Harrison and her insistence on research in historical writing.

Later on Ms. Harrison would become "Susan" at least part of the time. In my Junior year she got several of the students in her A.P. History class to work on a production of "To Kill a Mockingbird" at the community theater. During that process she became not only our teacher, but our mentor and friend as well. I can also trace my love of theater to Susan's influence and my critical eye for production is a direct result of her knowledge and attention to detail.

My Senior year I took Susan's World History class and continued to work with her on theater productions. It became something of a joke that she was "Susan" at the theater and when I would be working on shows in her apartment and "Ms. Harrison" when at school. Of course, my best friend's mother who also taught us in Junior High was always "Miss Jen" at home and "Mrs. Wicker" at school. Guess, it wasn't that odd, it just seemed like it because Susan was only about 10 years our senior.

I worked with Susan after graduation through the community theater for a few years and then as life happens I moved out of that environment and into other things. For almost 25 years I would sometimes run into her around town and we'd talk for a minute. During that time I heard that she'd had some health problems and then I had my health problems and finally moved from the area.

We exchanged a few emails after my transplant to catch up and then sort of lost touch again. Shortly after I moved to Arizona I got an email from Susan and since then we've been in touch frequently. I've enjoyed re-establishing our friendship after so many years.

She is now nearing retirement and I find it wonderful to be there to share this closure with her after being among the first students she taught at Mid-Carolina where she has now been for 28 years.

This year also marked another change from my high school days. Before I left South Carolina they were nearing completion on the "new" Mid-Carolina High School. It's a sprawling multi-story building across the road from the "old" high school. The site it stands on was a cow pasture when I was in high school (did I mention I went to a rural high school?). We used to hit golf balls into that field while tending the bar-b-que pit that stood next to the school. Bar-B-Que's were one of our major fundraising sources back then. My mother always said if you learned nothing else at our high school you learned how to cook bar-b-que.

So many changes in 30 years. But it's nice to know that at least a couple more classes will benefit from Susan's skill and knowledge as a teacher. I hope, like me, all of her former students appreciate just how much she shaped our lives and how much she gave to us in the form of knowledge but even more importantly in terms of friendship and genuine love for both her profession and her "kids".

Thanks Susan, from one of your "middle aged" kids.

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