Teachers, students reflect on lifetime of lessons

Published 12:05 am Saturday, April 29, 2017

They helped to chart our course, encourage our success and light the flame of learning.

Their careers are committed to molding, educating and challenging students each year. They are the teachers who have made impressions in the wet cement of our youth and contributed to who we are today.

Judge Sterling Snowdy first met Sister Joel Gubler around 1970, when he was a student at St. Peter School, and they remain good friends to this day.

“I was impressed by her Catholic faith, her wisdom and sense of justice,” Snowdy said. “Her compassion for all around her and her commitment to education stick with me.”

While Sister Joel’s justice influenced Snowdy’s life, almost three decades prior, another Catholic nun’s mercy guided Harold Keller.

Keller said he was not a stellar student and at the end of the school year, hovered over the brink of failure. His teacher, Sister Evangelist, had compassion because his mother had just returned from a lengthy stay at Charity Hospital and was still very sick.

“Sister Evangelist told me that the only reason she allowed me to graduate was because she didn’t want to upset my mother,” Keller said. “But she often wrote to encourage me when I was in the Navy. Throughout the rest of her life, we remained friends.”

Jackie Taylor has a career as an English teacher because of her high school teacher, LaRue Speights.

This photo from the Leon Godchaux 1977 yearbook shows LaRue Speights, who taught English and sponsored the high school newspaper, The Gleanings.

Speights educated students in St. John’s public school system for three decades and instilled her love of literature to countless young people.

 “Mrs. Speights greatly influenced me,” Taylor said. “She continually challenged her students to stretch themselves by reading various forms of literature, writing about them, discussing and even performing selections. Her expectations were high, but this was no match for the love and personal concern she also generously showered on all of us.”

Taylor said Speights thoroughly prepared her for the rigors of college English classes.

Stacy Alessi’s interactions with Speights went beyond the classroom and into First Baptist Church, which Speights’ husband, Major, pastored.

“I became an English and drama teacher as a result of her inspirational teaching; but more importantly, I have a deeper relationship with my Lord and Savior because she taught me how to walk with Him,” Alessi said.

Speights, who today is retired and living in Alabama, said if she had her life to live over, she would still choose the same career.

“It was never just a job, a way to earn money, but I saw it as a way to serve my Lord and Savior,” Speights said. “My former students can never understand how much I value Facebook, for it has allowed many of them to reconnect with me, making it possible for me to rejoice over their accomplishments, marvel at their beautiful families, grieve with them over tragedies and always, always pray for them.”

Of as much importance as the teachers whose names readily roll off the tongue are those whose names have been forgotten, but whose marks remain. Although the teacher’s name is unclear, Roberta Zeno August, East Regional Librarian, vividly remembers the day she was given an unforgettable assignment.

She was told to learn the poem “Loveliest of Trees” by A.E. Housman.

“I told the teacher that I didn’t like the poem, nor did I understand it,” August said. “She told me, ‘You will learn it and learn it well.’”

August said she can still recite the poem and it is now one of her favorites.

August said she appreciates all her teachers and never passes up an opportunity to thank retired educators.

“I tell them that I didn’t understand why they were so hard on me in school, but now I do,” August said. “They saw potential and wanted to bring it out.”

District Attorney Bridget Dinvaut said that her list of favorite teachers is very long and that public education is the foundation for her success.

In 1159, John of Salisbury wrote, “We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant, than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours.”

This year, a new graduating class will leave their formal education behind to move forward with an accumulation of lessons from the classroom. And like every generation before them, they sit on the shoulders of giants.

By Ronny Michel