In 1980-81, I was honored to teach Senior Government at Memorial High School in Edgewood School District. The students and teachers affectionately referred to the school as “La Memorial.” Two years later I also taught at La Techla (Fox Tech in SAISD) as well but that is another story for another column.
Before I began the year, I was recruited away from reporting for the Westside and Southside Weekly Suns (part of the Express-News) which now no longer exists. They discontinued them some years later and incorporated those publications into the main body of the paper.
I would write about stories on La Memorial for the Westside Sun and the Principal Joe Arriaga would come in to our office and submit press releases and ideas for stories to cover his school. Besides editing press releases I would also go out into the Southside and Westside to cover activities and events and write feature articles about personalities I encountered in the neighborhoods.
When Ethel Kennedy, wife of slain Senator Bobby Kennedy came to Kennedy High School for the dedication ceremony in his name in 1979, I was honored to interview her. Gracious lady.
That caught Arriaga’s attention and he asked me to leave the Suns and come to La Memorial and teach since I had a number of years of experience in the classroom.
The only opening he had available at the time was a government class that was losing the teacher who was being promoted to an administrative position within the district. The deal was that I would finish the school year as the Senior Government Teacher with one Freshman History Class and then the following year I would switch to teach English and Journalism since that particular teacher was retiring at the end of the year.
The good news was I took four years of History classes in high school and some classes in College which I enjoyed very much although it wasn’t my teaching field.
I really enjoyed teaching government that year, although the bad news was I followed a very popular teacher. Rule of thumb in teaching is if you are taking over for another teacher mid semester you want to follow one that is not the most popular or the most well-liked, which in turn can make you look good. Unfortunately, I followed the most popular teacher in the school who at one time been named the school’s “Teacher of the Year.”
What happens is when you institute your rules and ways of doing things, the students tend to say things like, “That’s not the way Mr. Rodriguez (not real name) does it or we don’t do that.” It is hard to overcome, but not impossible.
That is when you get really creative. I decided that one way to get the students attention was to bring in an occasional guest speaker so they wouldn’t have to listen to me do all the talking. That worked well.
One time I had a police officer come to my class to talk about students becoming interested in going into police work as a career and what it all entailed. I had not informed them beforehand the guest speaker would be a police officer so they didn’t know who was coming. What they also didn’t know was I had talked to the officer before-hand and we played out a little scenario. His walking into the classroom obviously got their attention. When he entered he asked me if I was Mr. Walker. When I said “yes” he told me to turn around put my hands behind my back and then proceeded to cuff me.
The stunned looks on my student’s faces told the story. Once they realized it was only a stunt, everyone had a good laugh and he proceeded to inform them how they could become a policeman.
The students enjoyed the class despite my prank and asked lots of questions of the officer. I have actually run into a couple of those students over the years who vividly remember that day. One said jokingly that was the only time he ever saw my hands behind my back. I talk with my hands! Who knew?
Anyway, as always, what I write is “Just a Thought.”
Steve Walker is a Vietnam Veteran and former Justice of the Peace and Journalist.