teacher appreciation: the early years

The latest in a series recognizing the best teachers I had.


Through almost all of my school years, I was lucky to have several outstanding teachers, beginning as early as 4th grade, with Roger Ricketts, my homeroom teacher at Solano Elementary in Phoenix, AZ.  Mr. Ricketts was the first teacher to recognize and nurture my writing talent.


Every Friday, we were assigned individual writing projects, usually a page or so, to be done in class; the topic alternated each week between writing a journal about our daily lives, or creative writing.  I was never very excited about the former, but how could I have known that 35 years down the road, I would be blogging?  The latter was far more interesting, and I spun all sorts of fanciful tales; alas, the only one I remember concerned a dinosaur egg that my fictional self found and attended until it hatched.


Another key teacher back then was stern, strict Marion Richards, feared by all  her students (perhaps even the other faculty).  Mrs. Richards taught a year-long course on Native Americans of Arizona, from prehistory to modern times (“modern” being the mid-1970’s, when I was enrolled at Solano).  We learned about, among others, the Anasazi, the Hohokam, and the Sinagua; the Apache, Havasupai, Pima, Hopi, and Navajo.


Mrs. Richards installed in me a curiosity and respect for Native American culture that persists to this day and was a huge influence on my first novel, Dragontamer’s Daughters.  It is no exaggeration to say that without her, I never would have written that story the way it turned out.  Mrs. Richards was elderly way back then, so I’m sure she passed away years before I published DTD.  Even so, I mention her in its acknowledgments.



While Solano is still there, Grandview School where I spent grades 5-7, is alas, not, torn down and replaced by Osborn Middle.  But it was at Grandview that my 6th grade homeroom teacher, John McQuade, noticed that I was spending every minute of free time writing (longhand) what he discovered to be my first novel.  It was a ripoff of Star Wars, which had come out the summer before, but he encouraged me to continue, giving me class time by exempting me from regular English assignments for the rest of the school year, and treating the novel-writing as a graded assignment.


If I was going to be an author (and at that point, I had decided I was going to be), then I would need to be able to type, so in 7th grade, I took typing from Warren Slocum, formerly the music teacher at Grandview.  He was old and most of us thought him rather odd; he was a favorite victim of pranks and “sass” (as he called it) from the malcontents I frequently hung out with.  But under his teaching, I was literally the fastest typist in all of 7th grade, and I’m still pretty fast.


The technique I adopted is somewhere between the full-fingered typing Mr. Slocum taught and “two-finger” typing: basically, I use everything except my pinkies, anchoring (for the most part) my wrists at the bottom of the keyboard.


More important than typing was what Mr. Slocum told me when he asked me to stay after for a few minutes on the last day of school.  He told me that I was exceptionally smart and had a great deal of talent and potential.  He urged me to continue to do well in school, and to stop hanging around with “meatheads” and “dummies” who were more interested in being class clowns than in learning anything.  I promised him I would, and for the most part, for the next 5 years of public school, I did just that.


Mr. Slocum, I’m sure, passed away several years ago, but I was grateful for the confidence he had in me, a scrawny, troubled boy from a broken home.  May God bless him, Mrs. Richards, and all my other teachers from elementary and middle school, whether they are in this world or the next.


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