A Teacher To Remember 9/19/12

Many teachers are mere vague memories from a childhood ever receding into the past, names and faces fading, brought back to recollection only by old school pictures or stories told at family gatherings.  Some of my teachers have faded beyond my recall, and the school photos have been misplaced over the years or languish in the storage boxes of other family members.  Others stand out, for one reason or another, even after the passage of several decades.  A second grade teacher with the odd name, Mrs. Gotobed.  What must she have endured over the course of her career, from children giggling about that name?  Mrs. Powell, a fourth grade teacher, who became my first (and only) teacher crush.  A sixth grade P.E. coach whom I did not like (probably for all the wrong reasons).  One or two high school teachers who were kind to a shy kid trying to keep from being noticed by almost everyone.

One teacher in all my years of schooling really stands out, however.  It was the school year of 1971 – 1972, at Divisadero Junior High, in Visalia.  I was in eighth grade, and was dealing, once again, with being the new kid in the school, and not knowing anyone.  It turned out to be a fairly decent year, for several reasons.  One, I met several people who were friendly to me, and were at least friends at school if not away from.  Two, Charlie befriended me, and was a close friend through junior and senior high school.  Three, a particular teacher made his class so fun to be in that I, at least, looked forward to school just to be there.

I’m not sure of the name of the course, but I think it was simply “history”.  The teacher was Mr. Beacom.  He had a unique way of presenting the course material, and every day was a new adventure in learning.

Some classes can become a boring ritual of stale lecturing, or reading out of dated textbooks, and classroom “movies” from the 50′s and 60′s (at least for the material available in Visalia in 1971).  Mr. Beacom, however, engaged the class in a way I had not experienced before, and I don’t think I’ve seen since.  We became a part of the lesson, rather than passive receptacles to be filled with names and dates.

One particular week we were given a slate of options, and told to choose one to complete.  We could work alone, or in groups.  One of the assignments was to write a script for a television news program.  Charlie, Kent, and I decided to go one better, and asked if instead of writing a script, could we write and record a news program on a tape recorder?  Mr. Beacom gave the go-ahead, and we got to work.  We did several “reports” based on current events in the paper, and even managed to include “breaking” news with a “live” report on a national incident.  Right in the middle of our assignment, Governor George Wallace of Alabama was shot in an assassination attempt.  We included a segment on that violence.  We covered the Vietnam war, “interviewing” a fighter pilot in front of a screaming jet aircraft.  You should have seen our classmates eyes bug out when they heard that part!  (actually just me being interviewed by Kent, both of us standing next to a running lawnmower in my garage.  Great sound effect, though!)  We even did a couple of commercials.    We had a great time, actually learned a lot, since we had to do some research (way before the internet, Wikipedia, or Google), and, of course, got an “A” for our project.  Unfortunately, over the years, the tape has been lost, so it only exists in my memory now.  But what a memory.

Mr. Beacom had a poster up on one of the walls in his room, that at first glance looked like an advertisement for a magazine.  It took a few days for the humor of the poster to dawn on me, as it said “Enjoy 40 weeks of LIFE” (with LIFE in the font and colors of the magazine).  Once I realized 40 weeks was the length of the school year, I felt quite pleased with myself for finally “getting” a subtle play on words seen often in daily life.

The rest of the year is a blur now, forty years later, but the overall impression of those classes was of enjoyment and discovery, and having my eyes opened to how much fun learning could be.  Mr. Beacom was an exceptional teacher, and I hope others who had his classes through the years enjoyed them as much as I did.

Many of my other teachers through the years were fine educators, and did their jobs admirably.  Kids, especially teenagers, can be a handful at the best of times, and it takes a special person to do the job.  Sometimes one comes along that is more than just good at it, but instead is exceptional.

Mr. Beacom, thanks for a exceptional year!

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