The Immeasurable Impact Teachers Have on Students

The Immeasurable Impact Teachers Have on Students


I wonder if school teachers actually know what an impact they have on the lives of their students, an impact and a presence that remains long after the teacher is gone. Let me share four of my teachers with you.

I’ll start in 1947, with my 5th grade teacher in the old South Grade School in Sikeston, MO. Her name was Mrs. Foley, and she taught me the joy of reading. From her, I learned that books were actually doors that allowed me to explore exotic places, with people like Richard Haliburton. Her sons were friends with Richard Haliburton, and Mrs. Foley shared one of his letters with us . . .a letter from someone who had actually written books about his many adventures!! They were also doors to other time periods, and with Mark Twain I learned what it was like to be a boy, my age, in the 19th century. The school library . . .and the city library, became my travel agency.

There were three teachers in highs school who were instrumental. First, there was Miss Sidwell. I took typing from Miss Sidwell . . .the only boy in my typing class. But already I was thinking about being a writer, and I knew that typing was an absolute necessity.

Hands writing on old typewriter over wooden table background “If you go in the army, tell your sergeant you can type. You will get a better job,” Miss Sidwell told me, and, a few years later, while in basic training, the sergeant asked everyone who could type to hold up their hand. Remembering Miss Sidwell’s suggestion, I held my hand up. But so did six others. The sergeant took all 6 of us…and I knew he didn’t have that many typing jobs available. He chose one, the other 5 of us “volunteered” for duty in the supply room, where we were folding sheets and blankets. But there, I saw a bugle, and picking it up I played Reveille, Chow Call, Retreat, and Taps. The First Sergeant came into the supply room. Quickly, I slid the bugle under the blankets.

“Who was blowing that bugle?”

I said nothing . . . I didn’t have to. Everyone else pointed to me and shouted…”Vaughan was!”

“Were you?” He demanded, a stern expression on his face.

“Yes, sergeant.”

The expression softened. “In the old army, we had real buglers, not recordings. If you’ll become the company bugler, you won’t have to pull KP or Guard, or any other duty.”

Miss Sidwell was right, I did get good duty because I could type, at least for the remaining weeks of my basic training. And of course, typing has been a significant part of my life ever since.

I had learned to play the bugle…the trumpet…and ultimately the French Horn…from Mr. Collins, our band director. I enjoyed the band during marching season, but I enjoyed it more during concert season. I had never even heard classical music before. My dad thought that if it couldn’t be played on a guitar, and sung by someone wearing a cowboy hat. . .it wasn’t music. But through Mr. Collins I was exposed to Schubert, Bach, Beethoven, Wagner, Vivaldi….and others. Now, many years later, my days are filled with classical music, because I listen to it as I write. Classical music builds a cocoon that invites me in where I am alone with the characters I create, in the settings I imagine . . . and I am literally transformed to that time and place. The outside world rarely intrudes.

And finally, Mr. Walker. Mr. Walker taught Civics my freshman year, Government my sophomore year, World History my Junior year, and Speech and Drama, my Sr. Year. Mr. Walker would ask questions as he conducted his classes . . .and if anyone could answer them, they got a point. At the end of each month, he awarded a grade on those points. The thing is, the questions might not have anything to do with the lesson . . . but they encouraged to research. “What year did Babe Ruth hit 59 homeruns?” The answer was 1921 AND 1927. He hit 59 in 1921, and 60 in 1927…which meant that he hit 59 that year as well. Mr. Walker was also my high school debate coach. I loved debating, and public speaking . . . which has served me well through my entire life. For more than half of my army career, I was an instructor…and lecturing came naturally to me. And since the army, I have spoken at scores of universities, and writers’ conferences. I never get up to speak without thinking of Mr. Walker.

Mrs. Foley, Miss Sidwell, Mr. Collins, and Mr. Walker are long gone, now. But their impact on my life has been immeasurable. I just hope that teachers understand how much they influence the lives of all the students they touch, and what all of us owe them.

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