My life of education that included first grade through sixth grade were spent at Symington Elementary School. Symington was a fairly new school when I was attending as the Hickman Mills School District was taking in the baby boomers and growing at a rapid pace. The district was growing as houses continued to be built to the south of the city to accommodate families whose fathers were coming back home from World War Two and Korea in the fifties. By the time I arrived at Symington, the great tornado of fifty seven had already gone through and destroyed much of the school district and recovered while the community had rebuilt and began to thrive again.
Symington Elementary was named in honor of one of Missouri's better known Senators, Stuart Symington. He was well known and well respected throughout the nation. He ran for President twice, and was the country's first Secretary of the Air Force.
The area had been incorporated by Kansas City but the school district remained disconnected from the city. The residents of Hickman Mills and Ruskin wanted to hold onto their schools. It was a wise move that the community accomplished as their school taxes were not going into the Kansas CIty School District, but rather the dollars were staying to build their own schools.
The Hickman Mills District drew some very good teachers when it was still fairly new. Nearly all of the teachers I had made a profound mark on my life as I grew. This post is about five of the teachers I had while attending Symington. I have already written about some of them and in the future have plans to go into a detailed discussion about how some of these teachers had an effect on me. For now though, it will only be a short description of these teachers and the basics of what I remember being the main remembrance of what I learned from them. )Later I plan on doing the same thing in regards to my high school years at Ruskin).
#5 - MR MADISON: Coach Madison came to teach at Symington during the year I was in the fifth grade. Coach Madison was a fairly stoic man who took his job of teaching physical education to young kids very seriously. I am tempted to say it could have been his first job in the teaching field but that is just a guess on my part. I remember that Coach Madison brought out in me the desire to step it up a notch while doing athletics. The fifth and sixth graders played intramural football and basketball during the year. During the intramural seasons, coach would stay late and put in extra time so that his students could learn competitive sports. It was with Coach Madison that I first discovered that I had a talent and a love for basketball. He encouraged me in basketball both my fifth and sixth grade years and during my sixth grade year, he would let me and a couple of other kids stay late to just shoot hoops while he cleaned up the gym before heading home. When I left Symington to go to Smith-Hale Junior High School, he asked a friend and myself if we wanted to referee the intramural basketball games that year. We took this as a great honor as we gathered our new found power and used it to keep kids who were where we once were, in line. It was also during this time that I learned I could run long distances better than average. Long distance in Elementary school was only six hundred yards, but I was consistently in the top three when we ran the six hundred. I would carry this with me as I grew older and would run on my own or with Ronnie. Coach Madison was still teaching at Symington during the six years that my son attended there. My son had the same experience with Coach Madison that I had, indicating how consistent the coach was during all of his years at the school.
#4 - MRS. WINGATE: When I was first thinking about the teachers at Symington, I found I had a tendency to disregard Mrs. Wingate. She was my sixth grade teacher and she could be tough. She wasn't a very fun teacher. She forcefully kept us in line everyday. Even recess was something that was meant to be taken seriously. You go outside to excersize, not to stand around and talk. She would call us out during class time if we were not paying very close attention to the lessons. I remember one day I was flirting with my longtime classmate Karen, when Mrs. Wingate got to the point of having enough of it. She called me on my actions in front of the whole class, embarrassing both Karen and myself. (If Karen is reading this, well I am sorry for that). Looking back on the year with Mrs. Wingate though, I find that she had a big job to accomplish with her sixth graders. She had the task of not only teaching us what we were supposed to be learning as sixth graders, but to take us to the next level of maturity to prepare us for what we would face as seventh graders the following year. This would be the last year that we would have one teacher all day long. It would be the last time that we would do homework for one teacher knowing how to do it because we knew what that one teacher expected. The next year would find us at Smith-Hale Junior High where we would have five or six different teachers during the day. We would have homework assigned from these teachers who didn't necessarily know how much homework the other teachers were putting on us. We would be moving from classroom to classroom five or six times a day. She spent the year teaching us to have confidence and do homework that is assigned and do it on time. She taught us how to jump quickly from subject to subject and to keep our thought processes on track. Her class was the jumping off point to a new way of education that was foreign to us but would become the norm for the rest of our academic lives. Mrs. Wingate probably had the toughest job of all my teachers up to this point and looking back, she did a fine job of it.
#3 - MR. ALLARD: I probably had less class time with Coach Allard then any other teacher during my years at Symington, but he, along with his wife, had a substantial influence on my life not only in school but outside of school as well. He started out as a sixth grade teacher who my sister had when she was at Symington. He then switched over to physical education for a year, maybe two years, and that was where my contact with him happened. While in school as a gym teacher, his main thing was to teach you to enjoy life, to have fun and not to take yourself too seriously. He had a great sense of humor that could embarrass you but at the same time you would realize that while he was taking the time to do that, it would be because he liked you and respected you. Of course he demanded respect in return and he got it from every kid who had contact with him. He did all of the things that were required of a gym teacher, but when he had the time he would go way outside the box and have some fun with games. Outside the classroom, he had his own kid's sports organization called Jays Athletic Club. He would take kids that he taught and invite them to join. It was through the club that Mr Allard was able to continue teaching the things he had taught us in school. He had a boys football team, a couple of baseball teams, a girls softball team and a girls basketball team. While he coached us outside of school he emphasized the meaning of team play. No one player was greater than the team as a whole. It took the whole team to achieve success and to have fun. This was the main lesson I learned from him and it has served me well as I have grown into an adult and started a career. Teamwork is essential for success and sometimes you may be required to make a sacrifice for the team to succeed. I still carry this very important lesson with me to this day. Thank you Mr. Allard. In my mind, you are a great man.
#2 - MRS. FITZWATER: Mrs Fitzwater was my fourth grade teacher and the first teacher I remember that encouraged her students to use their spare or free time doing something productive. Mrs. Fitzwater's definition of being productive in the classroom was to read books. She had more books in her classroom than the school library had. Okay, I am sure that is not true, but at the time it seemed like it. Whenever we got an assignment finished before the allotted class time for the assignment had expired, she would ask us if we had something to read. If we didn't, she would send us to the back wall to find something to read. She had a collection of books that covered almost any topic. She had fiction and non-fiction, history and science and even some books about sports. She also kept a small pile of magazines that were constantly circulated into the classroom and then out, keeping a fresh supply at all times. The second half of the year, she began to give us extra credit, to a point, for book reports that we would do on our own time. No one was to be idle in her classroom. If you had nothing else to work on, there was always a book that needed reading. Going into her class that year I had already developed a penchant for reading. I loved books and so when I discovered her collection of books along the back wall, I was in heaven. Sometimes I think she made extra time for assignments knowing that the majority of the class would complete it long before time was up, thereby ensuring that most of her students had a portion of the day to read. It was being in the atmosphere of Mrs Fitzwater's class that cemented my love of reading into being a part of my life even today. By her insistence that we read and that we learn the joy of reading, her teaching me has lasted long after I left her classroom for the last time. In a way, she is still teaching me today.
#1 - Mrs. Bledsoe: I was extremely nervous the first day that I walked into my third grade classroom for the first time. I think it was because of the placement of the room. One wing of the school housed all the first and second graders. The other wing was where the fourth and fifth graders resided while the sixth grade classrooms were in the basement. The third grade rooms were kind of spread out between the two wings in spaces that were situated around the main entrance, the gym and the cafeteria line of the school. It made going into the third grade feel like a period of transition between the little kids and the older ones. It was time to really start learning. or that is how it felt at the time. Mrs Bledsoe was young and dedicated to her job. She was sensitive to each of her students during the course of the year. She was never too busy to give us some one on one time if we needed it. The big thing I remember learning in her class was mathematics. She was introducing us to our first complex thinking in math in the form of base systems. This was part of the "new" math that was coming out at the time. Teachers were teaching better and faster ways to solve problems than the old standard methods. Today, the new math is old I suppose, but at the time, the new math presented a whole new way of thinking about mathematics. Sometimes it had the effect of confusing parents who were trying to help their children with their homework. Mrs Bledsoe knew how to teach. She had a special way of communicating ideas to us third graders. She always seemed acutely aware if something was not being understood by the class, no matter what the subject. She seemed to always make sure that we "got it". I did a lot of growing up that year in her class. I learned a lot about myself under her guidance. Her class was indeed a transition class, and she made the transition seem flawless. In my mind through all the years, Mrs. Bledsoe stands out as a very special teacher.