**This was originally published in a similar form in The Stokes News on April 18, 2013. When the publishers changed websites a few years back, all links to archived articles were tragically lost. I am attempting to republish in this blog all of my columns that once appeared in the newspaper.
When I taught public school, I was often dismayed by the lack of interest I saw in many of my students. By the time they came to me in their final year or two of high school, they very often had lost the desire to really learn. They were more concerned with passing the test, getting the grade for the college transcript—whether or not they ever really learned a thing.
I am afraid it may be even worse now that EOGs/EOCs/ WHATEVERS have become the law of the land. My heart goes out to dedicated teachers who feel they must first teach for a test rather than light a fire for learning. Their hands are tied in many ways.
Could the push for performance be dousing the flame of learning and curiosity that is so inherent in children? Are the bright-eyed kindergarteners ending up as glazed-stare teenagers?
I believe children are naturally programmed to want to learn and explore. And when they come in contact with a teacher who encourages that, the flame for learning is fanned into a raging fire. I am more and more convinced that Stokes County overflows with such teachers, despite the necessity of focusing on tests more than in days of yore.
I saw this when I watched the news story that CBS did on the Civil War camp at London Elementary School. Yes, I got teary-eyed every time I watched it. I wanted to stand up and salute somebody or some flag or something!
Walnut Cove making national news—I thought I would pop with pride! But the best thing was that we made the news for something so wonderful, so worthy.
When I covered the Civil War camp at London in my career at The Stokes News, I wanted to be a fifth grader again—to be in the class of Mr. Marshall or Mr. Boyles or whoever was lighting the fire to learn in these kids.
When you live it, you learn it. Reading about something is marvelous, but when you experience it, it comes to life in a way that touches your soul as mere words never can. You can read a romance book and mentally swoon, but when you fall in love yourself, you physically and emotionally swoon and are changed forever.
When my kids were younger, we did The Prairie Primer—a curriculum based on the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. When we read about Ma churning butter, we churned some ourselves. It was one thing to read about Pa’s muzzleloading guns, but it was another thing altogether when my daddy showed us how his muzzleloader operated.
I pray that my children will never forget what we learned as we read those nine books aloud and did the hands-on activities suggested. Chances are, they won’t, because they experienced so much of it. Neither will the fifth graders who experience the Civil War camp at London.
Today, I attended the Stokes County Historical Society’s annual fourth-grade tour. I was amazed that all fourth-grade classes in the county didn’t take part; it should be mandatory. But I believe the ones who did came away with a greater understanding of what their forefathers went through and what made this county great.
I know that I did. I was fascinated by the stories of local history and the various implements used on the old paths as seen in the Stokes County Historical Museum. My love for history was fanned even more!
And as I stood at the Moratock Iron Furnace and sat inside Davis Chapel, I remembered the many teachers who lit the fire for learning in me—especially those who made history come to life. (I am a firm believer that if we don’t study history, we are destined to repeat it.)
I thought of Mr. Ron Jessup whose charisma as he led us through our history lessons made me want to hang on to every word. He so inspired me that I creatively wrote a journal, speaking from the first-person perspective of a heartbroken girl whose favorite cousin had gone away to fight in the Civil War.
Mr. Jessup was so moved when he read my “journal” in our eighth-grade class that he immediately led me down the hall at Southeastern Stokes Junior High to Ms. Glenna Hicks’ ninth-grade history class. He had me read it to them, his face beaming with pride.
That was my introduction to Ms. Hicks—perhaps the greatest history teacher to walk the face of the Earth. When I had her the next year for part two of American History, I was in ecstasy every day for about 50 minutes.
She breathed history. You would’ve thought she was there for the proceedings that led to World War I. Surely she was on hand to witness WWII from the inner circles of nations. Her lectures held me on the edge of my seat as I furiously took notes on everything she said.
She wasn’t teaching for a test. She was teaching what she knew, what she loved, what she wanted to light a fire in us to love—the oh-so-important history of our nation.
The fire that Ms. Hicks helped ignite in me burns yet. And I want to pass it on to my children. It still burns in other former students of hers, such as history teacher Graham Flynt at North Stokes. Think of how many young people Flynt has taught to love history as well. The fire spreads still.
As National Teacher Appreciation Week approaches in early May, take the time to tell such a teacher how much they meant to you. Thank your children’s teachers for their dedication. And let’s all continue to help spark a love for learning that will burn for a lifetime.