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We need more unforgettable teachers

From the Ground Up

While listening to a presentation at a recent conference on the relationship between business and education in Mississippi, I wanted to stand up and say that what Mississippi really needs is more teachers like Bettye Quinn and Linda Peavy. What we will probably get is more computers. Allow me to explain.

Everyone reading this column probably has a teacher or two who has had a profound influence on them. I’d like to tell you about the two teachers who had the most influence on me. Bettye Quinn was my fifth grade teacher at Galloway Elementary School. She lived in an apartment across the street from the school and my class was her first teaching assignment after graduation from college. She was an encourager who really loved her students and pushed them a little further than they thought they could go. What I remember most is her telling me one day that I was a leader. I didn’t quite know what to say because I didn’t really understand her comment. No teacher had ever said anything like that to me. Sensing my confusion, she said that one day I would understand. She was right, of course. The good teachers always are.

Linda Peavy was my journalism teacher at Central High School. She too was fresh out of college, filled with passion and enthusiasm for teaching. She took 15 students, most of whom had never been outside of Mississippi, to the National Scholastic Press Association in Chicago.

Learning comes from more than a textbook. She pushed me in the same manner as Bettye Quinn, but what affected me most was what she wrote in my senior yearbook. It read, “I expect to see your byline in The New York Times.” She told me that I was a writer.

Today, Bettye Quinn is an associate professor of education at Belhaven College and director of elementary education. Her many honors include being named National Teacher of the Year. She has spawned hundreds of good elementary school teachers.

Linda Peavy now lives in Vermont and has written over a half dozen books. “Pioneer Women: The Lives of Women on the Frontier,” was selected by one of the national book clubs as its alternate selection one month. She spends a lot of time on the road teaching her craft.

Bettye Quinn and Linda Peavy had high expectations for me. Each saw things in me that I did not. Each told me that I could do things that I didn’t know that I could do. That was the best lesson I ever learned. I wasn’t going to let them down.

In 1999, business leaders lament the fact that entry level workers lack the necessary basic skills to learn how to work. Politicians say that we need better teachers. The teachers say that children today are different from the previous generations. Others say that lack of proper funding is the problem. They are all correct. Education in Mississippi today is a complex issue. The reality is that good teachers are getting harder to find.

One of the partial solutions is the use of technology in the classroom. Bob Pittman, the president of America Online, told the Mississippi Economic Council annual meeting last year that he would like to see a computer on every desktop in every classroom. I think he might be on to something. Computers are being successfully used in training in the military and in the business world. Technology-based learning can reach children in poor areas where acute shortages of teachers exist. We should not underestimate the potential of technology-based learning in education.

Having said all that, one other thing we should not underestimate is the power of teachers such as Bettye Quinn and Linda Peavy.

Phil Hardwick’s column appears regularly in the Mississippi Business Journal. His e-mail address is hardwickp@aol.com.

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