Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

December 31, 2012

My body of work

By Gelene Simpson
Corsicana Daily Sun

— Well folks, Wednesday will be my 76th birthday. Thank God, I am still able to stand on my own two feet even though they are flatter than ever. I was born at Corsicana Hospital and Clinic, which our family lovingly referred to as “Shell’s Clinic.” Dr. William T. Shell Sr. brought me into this world. My mother kept the copy of the baby formula that he wrote out for me, and I still have it. My footprint now is a lot larger than the one stamped on my souvenir birth certificate from the hospital.

These feet have been around the block a good many years now. They have stopped on a lot of goathead stickers and even a couple of nails. They have kicked up a lot of dust and sand in West Texas, and slogged through gobs of black mud in Navarro County.

I can remember a lot of hot summers during which these tootsies have been scorched by the hot brick sidewalks and streets and a good many rainy seasons during which they have splashed in a number of puddles on the way home from school.

They have trudged up countless hills to classes in establishments of higher learning, carrying me first as a student and later for 32 or more years as a teacher.

I am sorry to say, that they have suffered the confinement of pointy-toed high heels during my first years of teaching and cumbersome rubber boots I don now to go outside at the farm south of Dawson. During these many years of carrying me around from place to place, my left foot developed a painful bunion. Mercifully, it succumbed to surgery, although it still gives me a twinge when the weather is about to change or when I have been on my feet too long.

My hands have also been very busy during these past years as well. They have been busy, as you might imagine, pushing pencils and pens across many sheets of paper. The dreaded red ink pens crossed stacks and stacks of essays, themes, outlines, reports, grade sheets, research papers, curriculum guides, lesson plans, report cards, test papers, hall passes, notes to parents, homework assignments, make-up work, final exams, resumes, applications, summaries, and now columns for the newspaper.

Do not think that during this time my voice has been silent. No, my twangy substandard southwestern tones have resonated in grades seven through college-level classes. The more enthusiastic I become, the faster I talk. I even had a student once who exclaimed “Ms. S., you talk to fast, your teeth smoke!” I make no excuses for the way I sound. What you see is what you get. And that goes for what you hear.

I never liked hearing teachers try to quiet students by telling them to “shut up.” My teachers didn’t talk that way, and I promised myself that I wouldn’t either. I will say this, though. The temptation has been great sometimes, especially in more recent years when some students have come to school with their mouths set on “sassy” I always try to remember that there are more unfavorable influences on students today than those of former years had to withstand.

It is true that the instructor can set the tone for the class. They should not get into verbal contests with students, because that will certainly lead to a deterioration in the class attitude.

I have always tried to keep in mind the advice that one of my students gave me the first year I taught at Irving High School (1962). He said “bitter teachers make bitter students.” I believe this is try, and sadly enough, bitter students often have a similar effect on their teachers. If we can remember that, as teachers we are adults and should have more control of our attitudes simply from our years of training and experience, it can sweeten the bitter pill of students who are slightly rough around the edges in the manners department.

I am happy to say that I have learned just about as much from my students as I have from my teachers. Of course, the information has been of another kind and quality, but nevertheless, learning is learning, any way you cut it.

I began this column on the subject of my birthday, and here I am now on the subject of teaching school. But since more than half my life has been spent on that profession, I suppose the tie is definitely one that binds. And I will say that teachers enjoy learning as much as they do teaching. That is where the joy comes in.

I give credit to my parents for having encouraged me to enter the teaching profession and to my little sister for consenting to be my first pupil. And it is true that “old teachers never die, they just GRADE away.”

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Gelene Simpson is a Daily Sun columnist. Want to “Soundoff” on this column? Email: soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com