Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Best Teacher On Earth....

Fifth Grade, 1955, Golfcrest Elementary School, Houston Texas.  Mrs Shoemake, Our Teacher, Is On The Right.  I Am Standing Next To Her, Second Row From The Bottom
 The year was 1955. I was in the fifth grade at Golfcrest Elementary School in Houston, Texas and I was a problem.  I was constantly having disciplinary problems at school.  I actually got an "F" in conduct once---in the third grade.  Usually, I got a "D", while all the other kids got "A"s and "B"s. 

My parents were furious with me.  My other grades were very poor, also.  My dad called me lazy and stupid.  Looking back, I don't blame him.  He was beyond frustrated and didn't know what to do to get me straightened out.

I hated school.  Every day at school was a day of constant daydreaming and tuning out the teacher.  I was a terrible student.

When I started the 1954/1955 school year, however, things would be different.  They would be very different.  The reason they would be different is because I happened to be entering the class of Mrs. Dorothy "Dot" Shoemake. 

Mrs. Shoemake was a no-nonsense genius of a teacher.  It took her about two months of my shenanigans to completely figure me out and begin to execute a plan of action.  This had never happened before.  Not at school, and not at home.  I was in for the shock of my young life.

In my class picture (above) Mrs. Shoemake is standing on the right.  I am on the second row from the bottom, standing right next to her.  Note in the picture that five of my male classmates are wearing a patrol belt, signifying a high level of academic achievement and responsibility.

I wanted to be a patrol, too.  There was nothing I wanted more than to wear that belt---that emblem of achievement.  But, of course, that was out of the question---my grades were horrible and I was pretty much uncontrollable.

One day Mrs. Shoemake overheard me being mean to one of my classmates who was wearing a patrol belt.  The next day in class, she struck with the slyness of a fox, the understanding of Freud and the wisdom of Solomon.

In front of the class, she said to me, "Clinton, why did you say those mean things to Tommy yesterday?"

I was embarrassed.  I looked down and said in a low voice, "I don't know."

The great lady then continued, in front of my classmates.  "I'll tell you why you did that, Clinton, since you are unwilling to tell us yourself."

After a moment of silence, she applied the coup-de-grace:  "You said those mean things to Tommy because you are jealous of him.  He has earned the right to be a patrol, and you have not.  But you really want to be a patrol, don't you, Clinton?---and that is why you were rude and mean to Tommy.  Please see me after class, Clinton."

After class, I approached Mrs. Shoemake, firm in the knowledge that I was yet again in trouble, that I would be required to take a note home to my mother which would inform her that her son had once again acted badly at school.

But that did not happen.  She asked me if she had been right about why I had said rude things to my classmate.  I did what any 10 year old American boy would do when he has been caught red handed by a superior intellect:  I cried.

Mrs. Shoemake had me in the palm of her hand.  That had never happened to me before.  She had me figured out and I knew it. 

She told me that I could be a patrol, too.  After all, she said that she was the person who appointed patrols for the school.  And, if I wanted to be a patrol, I would need to start making good grades and start being courteous and well behaved.  This little conversation got me to thinking.  One thing was for certain---I wasn't going to outsmart Mrs Shoemake.

I started to study.  My mom helped me with my homework.  My grades started going up!  I tried to turn my behavior around at school. 
This is a painting of me, age 10, in my beloved patrol  belt.  This painting was done from an old photograph.  The artist is my wife, Cindy.  Painting done in pastel and pastel pencil.
One day, Mrs. Shoemake asked me if I still wanted to be a patrol.  My heart leapt!  She said I had earned the right to wear the patrol belt.  She said she was proud of me.  I swear, I think I even slept in that white patrol belt for the rest of my 5th grade school year.

I don't know what ever happened to the legendary Mrs. Shoemake.  I pray she had a long and happy life.  But I do know that I will never forget her and her impact on my life.


  1. We need more Mrs. Shoemakes in this world! I love this uplifting story.

  2. Amazing how one point in time can change the outcome of your life. It is great to have that one teacher who really makes a difference.

  3. Jane---it is amazing. You never know what impact you might have on someone. I vividly remember this playing out after all these years.

  4. How wonderful a teacher! Sounds like you found her in the knick of time.

    And your wife - wow! What a wonderful artist! I cannot draw people to save my life, much less make them look like the person they're supposed to be. WOW!!!

  5. Hi Clint -

    I loved and enjoyed this story. Thank you for sharing it.

    Teachers are often underestimated and underappreciated. They can make a world of difference in the lives of students. Your story is another witness to that.

    Do you still have your patrol belt?

  6. I think, or at least I hope, that all of us have had at least one teacher like yours. Wherever she may be you just made her day. Have a great weekend. Blessings...Mary

  7. Texwisgirl---Cindy is a real talent---but when it comes to art, I am hopeless. Ha.

  8. Lioneagle---I know there are many good teachers, but occasionally one comes along with THE GIFT. We all need a few of those in our lives.

    The patrol belt belonged to the school and I had to turn it in after the year ended. But it lives on in my memory!

  9. Mary---When you DO experience a teacher like her, the memory lingers. Hope you have a great super bowl party---I know your food will be spectacular!

  10. Yes Clint, a teacher who understands the children is a good teacher. But parents schould'nt call their kids stupid.
    Greetings Sabine

  11. Sabine---No, parents should never do that. But, looking back, I know my dad was frustrated and didn't know what to do. Blessings, my friend!

  12. how sweet. i loved my "naughty" students just as much as the others.

    beautiful painting!

  13. A very uplifting post Clint,
    I didn't like school very much, all I was interested in was music(I was learning the piano and taking exams)
    The one subject I really detested was poetry.
    Now many years down the line what am I writing? poetry. I still love my music as you may have guessed.


  14. What a nice story and you can see what kind of influence it had on you.

    Thanks for sharing and have a nice sunday


  15. Kelli---A really good teacher does love her "rascally" students just as much as the others, but it ain't easy!

  16. Petra---Thank you!...have a wonderful Sunday.

  17. Yvonne---isn't it incredible how our interests evolve over time? I think a lot of that has to do with our teachers when we went to school. A great teacher can make even the dullest subject interesting. But a poor teacher can make the most vibrant subject boring.

  18. I loved the way you expressed yourself in this tale of boyhood memory. Yes,
    Teachers can break ....or make a young spirit soar. Thank God for those that care enough to see beneath the fasad.
    Thanks for sharing... Lovely portrait by your talented wife.

    Patrina <")>><

  19. Patrina---Thank you. Yes, we need a lot more Mrs Shoemakes.