Wa-a-a-a-y back in the day , early to mid-sixties, I was blessed by having a Southern gentleman, Superintendent D. F. Osborne , hire me to teach senior English at Winder-Barrow High School. He took a huge chance on an unknown, inexperienced ” wanna-be ” , and I continue to be forever grateful !
Because of him I had the honor and the distinct privilege of teaching some of the smartest and nicest students I’ve ever come in contact with. I loved….. LOVE…….. them to the moon and back !!!! They, and they alone, kindled my life-long passion.
But my charge was to prepare them for whatever their future held, and , in particular, to ready them for college, jobs, or challenges the next year might bring. No standards, no curriculum, , no state mandates————just an expectation that I would do just that : get them ready !
We have long since lost the autonomy of the classroom teacher.
And so I leapt ! Thinking on my own college experience and having been a strong student of the English language, I reached deeply into what had helped me and what I lacked. In particular, I tried to keep in mind that many of these students were possibly weak in English, instead having interests in math or science or agriculture , etc. Hence, my direction.
No grammar books ! Dictionaries required for each student every day ! Sentence structure, subject-verb agreement, punctuation, spelling, pronunciation , and more , all came from classic literature , from the masters.
And then assigned : one-page, one-paragraph themes 2 or 3 times a week, 50 new (?) words to spell , define, and use in a sentence weekly.
I initiated a process of taking a broad subject such as AUTOMOBILES and having my students break it down into its smallest part : THE WINDSHIELD WIPER ON THE PASSENGER SIDE as an example. A descriptive theme was assigned, to be completed in one-page, one paragraph format.
Add in book reports, term papers , and English lit——and you have it !
I gave 2 grades on every theme : content and mechanics. A misspelled word , the use of second person, a run-on sentence, etc. bought a C in mechanics. Any two earned the much-dreaded F. If the mechanics were poor, but the content was good, the average was often not too bad.
Because they had resources to use : personal dictionary and readily available literature , grammar and work books on the communal book shelf, it didn’t take long for most of them to write the perfect theme. Interestingly enough, many parents, including three school board members , appreciated the ” comeuppance ” of their children, prior to the shock of college English.
Would not change a thing .
And then I met another challenge, some 25 years later , my first year at Franklin County High School: a class of 28 senior boys who had to pass my English class or they would not graduate.
I had been away from education for many years but got a call from new principal, Jack Slaton, who had an emergency. I took the job and learned a totally different lesson for sure !!!!!!!!
My first lesson was the need to build their confidence, and what a hard task that was. These guys had no desire to be there, would probably never care if their subjects and verbs agreed, and resented the powers-that-be who put them in this position. And I was supposed to make it work.
Some of these young men were gifted with strong hands-on abilities, but writing a complete sentence sent them over the edge. Some were more than capable but had no interest. Some were just plain lazy. And there were those who just needed a little tough love.
I don’t recollect all the efforts I ( and they ) made. But I do remember a couple of things that seemed to work.
Being human, even if ornery, they appreciated praise . So anytime work was graded, I put the names of the 90+ scorers on the blackboard and left them there until the next grading took place. Just like any of us , they reveled in the positive attention.
I found that the competition grew ( all that testosterone) and all grades improved and continued improving. Success breeds success.
And then I learned that they liked being read to . And so on the days that work was completed, and attitudes were positive, I would take a few minutes at the end of class and read aloud. One of their favorite books , and mine, too, was SOUNDER, the story of a coon dog. Most of these guys hunted, so they loved the book.
And they ducked their heads to hide the tears……………
Oh, how much I learned from all the kids——— the bright and the dull, the energetic and the lazy, the sweet and the cranky, the ambitious and the satisfied.
They all matter, and this diversity is what makes life real and relevant .
It was a wonderful beginning for what became my passion : loving teenagers with all their quirks and issues, and trying to reach out as I could and how I could. Many times I failed, but it was never because my heart was not trying.
And to the educators who believe that they are doing the teaching ———- you have missed the point !!!!
Yes, that A that I received on the content of my term paper was very encouraging . The other grade of F on mechanics was a wake up call. ( Typing errors messed me up before I made it out of the table of contents)
You were a good student and a quick learner ! It all worked our in the end. Hope you and Eulan have many blessings this holiday season.
Hi Mrs. Toney! I cannot remember if I had a class with you, but I do remember you. My husband Gary and I graduated from WBHS in 1969.
Thank you for responding. I only taught 3 years and the first graduating class was 1962, so you would have been a little later. But memories are memories and valuable. Wishing you and Gary a blessed holiday season.
I owe Diane Toney for the A’s I received in English 101, 102, and English Lit at UGA. I don’t always apply now what I learned back then in my writings, but I can honestly say she was the best English teacher – the very best!!
What an upper this morning for this ole English teacher ! Y’all were the best. Thank you for remembering and responding. As smart as you were, you probably would have done just fine anyway, but I do appreciate the compliment. And if you read any of my blogs, you know that I don’t apply all the rules either. Instead I write just like I talk !
What a blessing to read this today! I love and admire you so much! You taught me many things and I depended on you! Much love
No more than you taught me through the years ! We complemented each other as young friends , choosing our paths as we journeyed along. I hope your birthday was special. Thought about you off and on all day. Love you back………
You are now reaping the harvest from seeds of knowledge planted in the hearts and minds of hundreds of students down through the years. I know because my mother taught me and others in many schools including Lavonia.
That is certainly what all dedicated teachers hope for. Thank you.
I enjoyed reading your blog this morning! Due to time, or lack of, I try to grab a moment and scroll thru what I may have missed..always a catch-up game!!! You were a favorite teacher and later friend of Chuck’s and I can say with certainty his journey in life would not have been the same without you, Byron, and the guidance you brought his way! Although I did not have you as a teacher, your influence also affected me. I believe your dedication and knowledge, but also your acceptance of the sometimes complicated “teen-age world” was invaluable to many!! Thank you!
Thank you so much ! As you know, I loved Chuck ( McBrayer ) and considered him a son-by-another-mother. He was unique in so many ways, and I applauded that. Your family was our family——life in Winder, WBHS, Carwood, and on and on. So many memories ; so much to cherish. Think of you often and your losses. Blessings for the coming year.
This country boy from Central Carl, Georgia is so privileged to have had you Mrs. Toney! Yes, my Blue Jean back pocket required dictionary is on my desk next to my computer! I’m reminded of you daily and your encouragement for this country boy! I didn’t know what was a DESCRIPTIVE THEME was but I found out. Mrs. Toney you went to the board, picked up a piece of chalk and put a Dot on the board and said, “write a one page descriptive theme on this dot.” Now this country boy tried!! Don’t remember the results but I well remember the requirement!
Without your excellence teaching I would not have been ready for college. Thanks very much Mrs. Toney for your love of teaching and helping this Country Boy!!! Love You!!
A-w-w-w, you give me too much credit, but I so appreciate your sweet words ! And they are especially meaningful coming from a retired School Superintendent, a plateau I never reached. You were—-and are— special to me and how well I remember that back jean pocket with the tiny dictionary in it. Right away, I dubbed you a problem solver. So happy for social media so that we can continue to be friends, and I can enjoy the success stories of your grands. , Again, thank you for loving me———and back atcha !
You did a masterful job teaching your students the importance
of having a good understanding of the English language!
Enjoyed reading your memories.
Always look forward to seeing you and Byron 😘
Thank you ! It was definitely a challenge———-but so gratifying.
If we don’t see you during the holidays, I hope yours are filled with many grands !!!!