Teacher Honor Roll
by John E. Bonfadini, Ed.D.,
Professor Emeritus, George Mason University
John E. Bonfadini
Nominate One of Your Teachers for Publication in Cooperative Living’s
Teacher Honor Roll
Bentleyville is a small coal-mining town located in southwestern
Pennsylvania. Most of the families living in the area had some connection
to the coal mines or steel mills of the Monongahela valley.
The local schools were small — my high school graduating class
numbered 72. Bentleyville High School is now called Bentworth —
the result of a merger with our neighboring rival town of Ellsworth. Most
kids went from first grade to graduation in the same class. We knew
everything about each others’ families. Nothing escaped this
This summer about 30 of us met for our 45th class reunion of
Bentleyville High School.
We have had this reunion every five years since our graduation in 1956.
It’s usually the same 30 who attend, with an occasional newcomer showing
up. The talk centers on the changes that have occurred in our lives since
our last get-together, and on the good old days. The good old days become
more important as time passes.
Most of my fellow classmates still have a difficult time accepting that
I became a college professor. I left a lasting impression in their minds
and it wasn’t because of my academic achievements. My class rank was
number 52, and probably should have been lower. I never really liked
“book learning.” My main high school interests centered on sports and
creating trouble. I was voted the most comical (class clown) and best
dancer. I guess I could have received awards for skipping class, not doing
my homework, and for being the most likely not to succeed.
Few in the town ever thought I had any real hope of making something of
my life, let alone graduating and earning a graduate degree. But I did
have two teachers who realized that behind the immature actions of that
teenager, might be a mind worth saving. That’s what this article is all
about — recognizing those great educators who help many of us meet our
Dorothy Nelson was her name. She certainly left a lasting
impression on the minds of the class of ’56, and every other class she
Miss Nelson was the typical “old maid” English teacher: She was
demanding, seldom smiled, and could wield a mean paddle. She tanned me
several times during my high school tenure. There was no fooling around in
her class, but my English or literature knowledge wasn’t reflective of
her efforts. It wasn’t because she didn’t try; I just wasn’t ready
for the academic world.
Miss Nelson recognized that I had some leadership talent and never gave
up on me. In fact, she chose me for one of the lead roles in the
senior-class play. I played a kid named Randolph — a teenager with a
keen mind who was always getting in trouble and ended up solving the town
murder. Talk about type casting.
She taught me the most valuable lesson I learned in high school —
never give up on yourself. It was far more important than any meaningless
facts, which I learned to digest at a later date in my educational career.
Miss Nelson passed away about two years ago after a brief stay in a
nursing home. I sent her this magazine and a letter, which I should have
written many years earlier. I never knew whether she was able to read the
Cooperative Living copies I sent her. Probably not, because I never got a
red-lined copy back. Thanks, Miss Nelson, for all of your efforts.
Fred Christina was our science teacher and high school
principal. He also coordinated the delivery of two of the morning papers
in the Pittsburgh area. I was one of his paperboys.
Every morning I would get up at 5 a.m. and head to his house to get my
newspapers from his front porch. I then headed out on a five-mile hike
delivering the news to about 60 families. Delivering papers can be a real
education, which I may expound upon in another article. That little job
taught me a lot about people.
Mr. Christina made his office my homeroom. I had been “kicked out”
of my assigned homeroom many times for doing stupid things, so he figured
it would save some time if I just stayed in his office. His philosophy on
how to get me though school was simple: Just keep the kid busy. He made me
in charge of everything — chair boys, class-play set designer, yearbook,
May Day activities and even some janitorial duties. He didn’t worry
about my academics; I guess he knew I would eventually grow to understand
that they also had some value in life. Thanks to him I received the
activities award at graduation. I owe him a lot and would like to take
this opportunity to say “thank you.”
Send Us the Name of a Teacher You Believe Should Be Recognized
Obviously, there are
at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to
provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send
e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org, or send written
responses to the editor. Mail will be forwarded to the author.
If you have graduated from public or private school, we would like you
to consider sending us the name of one teacher who made a significant
contribution to your life.
Cooperative Living will print the names we receive in our magazine’s
“Teacher Honor Roll.” We need to say “thank you” to these
dedicated public servants, living or deceased. Please send or e-mail us
the following information:
|School system from which you graduated|
|Primary subject taught by the teacher|
|Brief three-line statement|
Send mailed entries to: Teacher Honor Roll, c/o Cooperative Living
magazine, P.O. Box 2340, Glen Allen, VA 23058-2340; or e-mail submissions
From time to time, Cooperative Living will also randomly select from
this list individuals to further honor with more in-depth profiles.