Press-Republican

September 29, 2013

Teachers can make a real difference

By GORDIE LITTLE, Small Talk
Press-Republican

---- — It’s time for a reprise on teachers. Is there a pair of eyes reading this behind which is a brain that cannot recall a favorite classroom mentor from years gone by?

Take a pen or pencil, and slowly write that name while recalling the face of that teacher. You have just paid a tiny tribute to someone who made a real difference in your life. 

For me, it was Agnes Labarge. For Kaye, it was Mrs. Finnegan, who taught second grade at the Broadway School in Saranac Lake. 

“She was a sweetheart and a lovely lady,” Kaye recalls. “She was a gentle soul and never raised her voice. I had some not-so-pleasant experiences with teachers who left scars on my young mind, but Mrs. Finnegan made up for all of them.”

Labarge did that for me in the tiny St. Lawrence County community of Massena Center. I have often spoken and written her name with great love and admiration. I was a rough-cut country boy and, rather than scold me in front of the classroom, she would take me to one side and speak softly. She never pointed to my transgressions, but focused on my strengths. She enforced my passion for reading by placing a paper pocket bearing my name, onto the wall by my desk. She suggested books I might enjoy and urged me to write (in cursive) a paragraph about my reaction to each story and place it in the pocket. It was a pleasant challenge, and the pocket was packed full by the end of fifth grade. 

She never forced me into compliance that I can recall. I would have been the quintessential square peg in a round hole. She acknowledged that I always thought outside the box and told me that was something to cultivate. She allowed me to listen to all the older students while they sat on the front “recitation bench” for their lessons. I learned many sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade subjects along the way and enhanced my appetite for learning. 

Long after I moved to Plattsburgh to begin my radio career, I picked up a newscast and began to read the obituaries. As I came to the death notice listing her name, my voice cracked and I shed a tear for my beloved Miss Agnes Labarge.

I have photographs taken outside that little school with lots of kids enjoying recess. Sadly, I have no pictures of Labarge. I wonder if any exist. I would like to see her face again and thank her posthumously for caring about me way back when.

Harry O. Smith sent me a short email message in mid-September that caused me to experience a flashback. He wanted me to know that a woman whom he referred to as “a very special teacher” was about to celebrate her birthday. Claudia Bradley was the last teacher at the Scomotion Avenue School, located near the creek at the north end of Plattsburgh. She later taught at Oak Street School.

The Scomotion School was still there, being used as a polling place when I covered my first election on the radio. I have photographs of what the community of Scomotion Creek looked like in the 1950s. Now, it’s long gone.

Why do I mention Bradley here? Because she celebrated her 100th birthday last Sunday, Sept. 22. Born in 1913, she was said to be the first person in her family to reach the century mark. 

Belated happy birthday to Claudia and a special tip of the Gordie Little hat to teachers everywhere. I have not purposely omitted the names of others who touched my life from kindergarten through college. There are many, and I apologize for sometimes daydreaming in your classrooms. 

For any teachers reading this, I salute you and thank you for your contributions. I urge you to keep the faith and to be true to your convictions. Someday, when you also reach 100, I hope to be over your shoulder helping to blow out all the candles.

Have a great day and please, drive carefully.

Gordie Little was for many years a well-known radio personality in the North Country and now hosts the “Our Little Corner” television program for Home Town Cable. Anyone with comments for him may send them to the newspaper or email him at gordandk@aol.com.