Food For Thought

Teacher Honor Roll
by John E. Bonfadini, Ed.D.,
Contributing Columnist
Professor Emeritus, George Mason University

John E. Bonfadini
John E. Bonfadini

Nominate One of Your Teachers for Publication in Cooperative Living’s Teacher Honor Roll 

My Nominations 

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 gossip-minded population.

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 highest goals.

Dorothy Nelson was her name. She certainly left a lasting impression on the minds of the class of ’56, and every other class she taught.

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

What’s Your View?

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:, 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:

bulletYour name
bulletTeacher’s name
bulletSchool system from which you graduated
bulletPrimary subject taught by the teacher
bulletBrief 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 to

From time to time, Cooperative Living will also randomly select from this list individuals to further honor with more in-depth profiles.


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