Really Teaching Students

As they sent students on their way and neatened up their classrooms for the summer during the past several days, I hope every teacher in the Ohio Valley read a story we published last week.

It was about graduation ceremonies at John Marshall High School. The guest speaker was Chris Stadelman, whose days as a Monarch ended around 30 years ago.

Now, I’ve known Chris and his wife, Kelly, for many years. They’ve contributed much to West Virginia. They’re great human beings. But the highest accolade I can give them is that they are great newspaper people.

Something Chris said in his talk to JMHS graduates bears thinking about.

He recalled some of the excellent teachers he had while a student in Marshall County. One, Christie Robison, was his fifth-grade teacher.

“She instilled a unique love of life that I never lost,” Chris said, adding, “I’ve written news stories distributed around the world, speeches the governor gave at national conferences. And I can tell you that Ms. Robison is as good a writing teacher and coach as you’ll find anywhere.”

Think about that. She taught him in fifth grade.

Outside the world of education, some people may have the impression that what teachers in elementary and middle school, and often in high school, do is give young people a foundation for later learning.

Yet here we have a teacher who was so good that the lessons she taught stuck through the decades, resurfacing unchanged and unaugmented to be of enormous benefit for a man much later in life.

Chris’ speech took me back to my high school, Magnolia, in New Martinsville. I had several very, very good teachers (and a principal I still view as a role model) there.

And like Chris, some of what they taught me has stood alone, without the need of any addition, for many years.

I’m not going to name names, simply because I don’t have enough space to do justice to all of them. Suffice it to say that much of who I am in every positive way was molded by teachers at every level who went far beyond what they were required to do for students.

Could they do it today? I doubt it. Once all the state-mandated reading is finished, I doubt a certain high school English teacher would have the time to assign one book I was forced to read, and which has inspired me in various ways for nearly 50 years.

With all the required material taking up time, would there have been enough left for another teacher to allow my buddies and me to engage in some questionable — but valuable — lab experiments?

Given current “zero tolerance” policies in some schools, the method a classmate used to tackle the assignment for an attention-getting speech would get him expelled today. Yet I learned something enduring from it.

Here’s the thing: Some of the very best teachers I — and, I’ll bet, Chris — had might not be allowed to do their best work in today’s education environment.

Yet some, rebels to the core, find ways around what sometimes seems like a law against just letting teachers teach.

I hope and pray they understand the enormous good they are doing — and keep it up.

Myer can be reached at: