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Katherine McHaney column: Teachers, old and new, make huge difference

By BY CATHERINE McHANEY
Aug. 30, 2012 at 3:30 a.m.

Catherine "Kay" McHaney

When I taught high school in the Victoria school district in the 1950s, I faced challenges, but I suspect I was allowed much more freedom than my counterparts of today. What was the same, though, was a teacher's unshakeable belief that sharing knowledge can lead to a student's success.

Even though Victoria was much smaller then, I had students at all levels of intellectual commitment. Periodic testing (mine, not the state's) revealed quickly who grasped the information. Throughout the year, the school offered opportunities to help those who needed to catch up. And, by the end of the year, I knew full well who knew the material and was capable of moving on.

I had my own mentor, Miss Margaret Cline, a teacher who had taught many years in my subject: biology. She not only knew the subject completely, but also had complete control of her classes. That meant the full time in the class was a positive learning experience.

That was my goal as well, as a young teacher. I spent my break time in the teachers' lounge trying to soak up her advice. Her talents enlightened and enriched me throughout the year. She made it clear her genuine commitment to educating students was not about the pay.

Nonetheless, I strongly believe great teachers, those who love the profession, should be paid well so they will continue in the classroom. No one is more important to our society than a great teacher.

My experience in the classroom also taught me all students have the ability to learn. Many will succeed even beyond expectations. But oftentimes, it takes a wise and trusted teacher to help recognize a student in need.

Since my time in the classroom, I've examined education at all levels and from various angles. I've been a part of both public education and private schooling through my own education and that of my four children. All of these experiences led me to advocate for opportunities for all children.

My educational journey began as a student in a one-room schoolhouse in Pettus before we moved to Victoria. Memorable teachers who stand out, even decades later, made Latin come alive and geometry shapes exciting. They showed me what talented teachers could make of any subject.

As a teacher, parent, volunteer, private school board member and Victoria College trustee, I have been exposed to the tremendous challenges that present themselves at each juncture. Each of these points presents a complicated set of circumstances, followed by possible solutions.

My hope for your Advocate's education project, "A Community Commitment," is modest, yet lofty: Monitor the course we are taking. Sound a warning when needed. And delight in cheering successes.

Catherine McHaney is the secretary/treasurer of the Victoria Advocate and a member of the newspaper's steering committee for its education project. She may be reached at kmchaney@vicad.com.

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