Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Teacher Appreciation Week: Mr. Powell

When I was in fourth grade at Woodland Elementary School in Oak Ridge, TN, I had the scariest teacher in the school: Mr. Powell.  He was a big guy, had a scary mustache, a stern demeanor, and was missing two fingers.  I had just moved to Tennessee and was pretty much scared of everything, especially Mr. Powell.  He didn't take shit from anyone.  If you were out of line, you were in the hallway with him having a private conversation.  If you disrespected anyone, he would have someone get your lunch for you and make you eat it in the classroom with him.  If he caught you cheating, he'd call you out on it and make sure it never happened again.

But beneath his rough exterior, I believe there was a very caring man who was desperately interested in ensuring his students behaved and learned.  What I remember most about Mr. Powell were the read alouds.  He read to us about the making of Oak Ridge (it's known as the secret city as it was the place much of the work was done on the Manhattan Project during WWII); he read to us about the Trail of Tears; he read to us about trilobites; and he read to us about car batteries.

Although I knew I wanted to be a teacher since I was about six, it was in Mr. Powell's class that I learned I was fascinated with history.  I remember coming home one day and telling my mom how interesting the story of the Trail of Tears was, and how I wanted to learn as much about history as I possibly could.  As a result, I learned everything I could about the Civil War when I was nine and ten, and I was an expert by the time we studied it in sixth grade.

It was only this past thanksgiving that I learned a little more about Mr. Powell.  I was having dinner with the family of one of my best friends (who I met in Mr. Powell's class), and his mother told me that as scary as Mr. Powell came off to the kids, he was one of the kindest and most helpful teachers she'd ever worked with.  I was shocked because I mostly just remember trying to learn everything so Mr. Powell wouldn't get mad at me.  I never saw his softer side.

For igniting my passion for history, for teaching me that acting right is important, and for being a caring teacher, this one's for you, Mr. Powell.  Thanks for all of your hard work!


  1. That sounds like my school's principal, Dr. Schnieder. The kids were all terrified of him, to the point that kids would start crying when they were sent to his office (elementary school). I was sent to his office once and thought I was going to be sick.

    Years later I found out that he was my mother's bridge partner and one of the nicest, most caring men you could imagine, serving as a foster parent, and crying on his last day of school because he wouldn't be able to educate kids anymore.

  2. Many parents and other citizens of the District very much appreciate the teachers in our public schools who are energetic, skilled, and who have not decided that educating kids from poor backgrounds is too tough to even try. There are a great many teachers who still try, and there appear to be a similarly large number of those who don't. All of them deserve our support and thanks. I have given my thanks in person over the last week to those I know personally. I hope they can find it in their hearts and minds to do what they can to modernize the schools curricula and programs of all types and to accept the best practices from outstanding school districts where good managers are not uncommon. Going forward those who are still trying should take advantage of professional development that DCPS has offered and some new offerings.