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Teachers change lives
From the editor
Denise Etheridge
Denise Etheridge, a University of Georgia graduate, has been named editor of the Coastal courier.

In one of my first public appearances as editor of the Coastal Courier, I attended Liberty County School Superintendent Dr. Franklin Perry’s forum Monday evening. The forum was held to ease parents and student concerns regarding the school system’s accreditation. 

Dr. Perry stressed the system would not lose its accreditation and said he was confident board members would follow mandated directives to improve their collective performance. The system has been put under review by AdvancEd. 

I won’t go into the subject of accreditation here, as Patty Leon has covered the topic extensively. You can read the latest about the forum in Patty’s Front page story.

What I will reflect on are some of the comments that were made.

Dr. Perry said every person who attended the forum was inspired at one time or another by a teacher, someone who, through dedication and caring, made a difference in a student’s life. 

I have been fortunate to have had several inspiring teachers in my life. A few of them were relatives.

I remember my high school English literature teacher and drama coach, Irene Bailey. She was a mid-westerner by birth, teaching in a metro–Atlanta school in the late 1970s. (Yes, I’m that old.)

She mercilessly red-penned my essays and stories, always telling me, “You have talent. You can do better.” Mrs. Bailey often kept us late at play rehearsals. When we goofed around, she would stand hands-on-hips, her tiny birdlike frame stiff and straight, point her finger at us and say, “Come on people, learn your lines! You’re not leaving until you get it right!”

Well, we did get it right. My former first high school, Tucker High School, won theater competitions during the years Mrs. Bailey served countless hours as drama club adviser.

I owe her, along with my cultured parents, a love of theater and my pursuit of writing as a profession.

The teachers in my family also impacted my life by encouraging a love of reading. 

My great-aunt Henrietta taught English in New Jersey and again in San Francisco, Calif. Aunt Henri gave me my first book of Haiku. I didn’t read well at age 8, so the short poems were an easy transition to more complicated material. I still have it on my bookshelf. 

My Aunt Edie, also an English teacher, taught in Massachusetts. She would hand my sister and me young-adult books to read during the summers we spent at her home in the country. My favorite was “A Wrinkle in Time,” by Madeleine L’Engle.

The next generation of teachers in my family include my sister-in-law, Juanita, and her oldest daughter, Dianna, who teach science in Long County schools. They spend a large portion of their summer break preparing for the coming school year. Like my aunts, they too are committed to their students.

I raised a teacher. My daughter, Rachel, is an art teacher. This summer she is supervising an art program at Camp Henry S. Jacobs in Utica, Miss. Her husband, Paul, teaches history at a private school in Mobile, Ala.

Rachel tells me the best part of her day is when a child’s light bulb goes off, and he or she understands a concept they’ve been struggling to master.

Another comment touched on by Dr. Perry was the evolving subject of school safety. He said keeping students and staff safe in today’s world is a challenge, but one they will certainly strive to do in the best way possible.

Rachel told me she, and her students, have been given instruction about what to do should they encounter a shooter. She agrees it is necessary to be prepared, but laments that the preparations upset some students. Some of her younger students admit they don’t feel safe in school, and that breaks her heart. She is committed to her kids, as are many of our local educators.

As parents, I believe we should work with our children’s teachers, principals and system administrators. Show up for parent-teacher conferences, get involved in the PTA or other parent organizations, attend school board meetings to see how your tax dollars are being spent, and vote for those board of education candidates that you believe will best serve children. Liberty and Long school systems each have websites, too. I would also suggest reading the Coastal Courier to find out what is happening in the schools. We will pursue the facts in a fair and objective manner.

Etheridge is the new managing editor of the Coastal Courier.

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