Honoring the Teachers in Our Family
School is starting again this week for millions of children around the USA and the world. What a perfect time for me to tell you about some of the teachers in our family tree. I can count almost forty teachers in just a couple of generations! What a legacy they are leaving, what an example they are and have set! I am so proud of each of these educators, and so pleased to be counted among them and related to them!
Teachers are so important, how is it that we, as a society forget that, or neglect them sometimes? All it takes is to send your 5 year-old child or grandchild off to school under someone else’s control, influence, and guidance all day, to realize just how important they are! As the years progress, not only do we count on teachers to socialize our children, we count on them, depend on them to actually educate them! We want our children not only to read, write and do math, but to learn to think critically and solve life’s problems well! We might also hope they learn a sport and sportsmanship. What about a foreign language? Art, music, theatre, calculus, geometry, history? Yes, we want it all–and we don’t want our teachers to complain that they are poor or to act out in any way! Wow! Tall order! I am proud to say many men and women in our family have chosen this noble profession!
This post will highlight family members who have chosen Special Education and Elementary School Teaching for their career. The next couple of posts will feature Middle and/or Junior High School teachers then climb the ladder through High School, and meet the Principals are in our family tree! There are also family members who’ve taught in our business schools, community colleges, and Universities as well! All of these educators represent a great deal of brain power!
Special Education Teachers are teachers who teach children with cognitive and/or developmental impairments, learning disabilities, and behavioral and emotional difficulties that impede learing. They are courageous and magical!
Previously I wrote a blog post about my Mother’s sister, my Aunt Janey Bell Kerse Sommers! She was a teacher of students with behavioral and learning problems. She spent over twenty years dedicated to helping them do the best they could do, then became the Special Education Supervisor for all of Forsyth County Public Schools, Forsyth County, N.C., mentoring other teachers along the way. You can see her story “Janey Bell Kerse Sommers, 1923-2002, Brilliance and Joyfulness Dimmed by Alzheimer‘s” by clicking on the title.
What is amazing to me, is that even though Janey Bell Somers had no children of her own, she inspired several generations of young people to teach and to learn. She motivated me to teach students with special needs–in learning, in behavior, which I did for seven years before I became a family therapist. I taught children in elementary school at first, then I moved to a Junior High where I had children ages 12-16 in my classroom . Their academic skills ranged from about 3rd grade to 9th grade, and I prepared individualized plans for each student at their level in each subject! Every day we worked on social and behavioral skills and goals as well. One student got angry while in time out, and set our classroom which was in a mobile unit (trailer) behind the school, on fire! Another time a student attacked me physically and took me backwards, over the sofa where I was seated, onto the floor! One student hot-wired and stole my car! (He brought it back after a brief joy ride!) LOL, no wonder I had a heart attack at age 50! I was challenged everyday with these students, and cared for them deeply.
One of my younger cousins is still teaching Special Education– Severe Behavioral Needs Children, now in her 33rd year! Susan Youngblood Kerr who lives in Missouri with her husband and three children, has two Master’s Degrees, one in Special Education and one in Educational Leadership. She served as a Language Arts teacher to General Education students for several years and worked for others at the Middle School level. Susan was honored when one of her former students got in touch with her recently with a heartwarming message: (This from a student she had in 1985. He was from the projects–no dad–she never met his mom.)
“Hi Young lady well so nice to hear from you. I was unforgettable– I hope that’s a good thing. how’s your family doing? fine I hope. they have the greatest mom in the world but you already know that. well I’m doing great myself –just retired last year from the Navy after 20 years of service. I live in Japan with my lovely wife and 3 beautiful kids. yes who would ever think me a husband and a father! well for what it is worth I’ve always known that you cared about us kids even then. when I think about any teacher that cared and made a difference in my life, you are #1 on my list and I mean that from the bottom of my heart! so you see you did make a change in a little boy’s life, but now I’m a man. thanks and God bless.”
Wow! The above brings tears to my eyes–what a great tribute!
Remarkably, we have another young cousin, also through the Langhorne line, who taught students with behavioral and emotional difficulties! Jonathan Daniel Nichols is my second cousin, and he taught in Maryland. He is smart, caring and well-respected. He continued a family tradition he didn’t even know existed when called to teach the most challenging students. We especially need men to serve as role models for this population of students. I am so proud of him.
Special Education seems to be a calling for many in our family, as we had a Great Aunt Josephine Bell Houchins who taught deaf students at the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind in Staunton, Virginia for many years. I remember how interesting it was to go and visit her and her husband my Great Uncle John Langhorne Houchins, and see her talking with the students in sign language. During breaks I was mesmerized to watch the students gather with their friends and engage in animated sign language chatting just like we did between classes at school, only they were quieter but more expressive.
Another Youngblood cousin, my second, once removed, Jamie Beck Skinner is a Special Education Paraeducator at Abingdon Elementary School in Abingdon, Maryland. While the teacher leads a group activity, Jamie might be giving another student private reading lessons. She is truly a para–beside–educator who teaches where and when the teacher cannot. It makes it possible to reach some students, to prevent melt-downs, to teach to certain strengths and weaknesses not possible with only one teacher in the room! What a blessing a paraeducator in the classroom is!
It’s hard to believe, but in our immediate family system, I have another cousin who is a Special Education Supervisor! She serves the people of New Hampshire! Mary Casey Goodell is a dynamic, dedicated educator who has been mentoring other Special Education teachers for many years now! So, two supervisors of Special Education, and eight special education teachers in one family, pretty amazing! I wonder if there is a call to serve others embedded in our dna?
Elementary School Teachers
Those who teach kindergarten through fifth grade work with children as they meet a great number of their developmental milestones, socially, physically, and intellectually. Teachers and parents are the ones who help mold and shape us at these formative ages. My sister Anne Youngblood Prince has retired now after teaching fourth, fifth, and sixth grades in both public and private schools for over 36 years! She earned her Master’s Degree in Reading at the University of Richmond (Virginia). Most of her teaching career was spent guiding fourth graders at St. Christopher’s School, a private Episcopal school for boys in Richmond, Virginia. Anne was highly dedicated to her students and was an excellent teacher who was always thinking about, training for, or putting into practice her myriad skills to give her students the best education possible. You couldn’t ask for a kinder, smarter, more successful teacher. She taught long enough to teach the children of some of her students who were so proud to have their children in her care.
One of Anne’s mentors was Elizabeth Walker Youngblood, wife of Lewis Jr. and mother of Mary, Lewis III, and Susan. As described above, Susan is now teaching for her 33rd year! What a great influence Liz was for her children and many others. Liz and Anne, my sister, taught fifth grade at L.L. Beasley Elementary School in Prince George County, Virginia at the same time, and my sister remembers her as creative, skilled and highly motivated to do an excellent job. I remember Liz also as a wonderful, firm, kind, and very intelligent woman. Unfortunately, she is the second teacher in our family taken ill by that crushing disease Alzheimer’s! Liz also served as an assistant principal as well in a school in Colonial Heights, Virginia.
My sister Anne tells an interesting story about how she first met Elizabeth Walker Youngblood in 1952. Anne was in fourth grade at Bon Air Elementary School, and was her classroom’s representative to the Red Cross School Committee. Elizabeth was the Red Cross School Coordinator for all the schools in Chesterfield County,Virginia. Liz sat right down beside Anne and introduced herself as the fiancée of her cousin! (Her husband Lewis Jr. was our father’s first cousin.) “Let me show you my ring. I just got engaged to your cousin!” Elizabeth was so kind to ten-year old Anne, that they became friends for life and then coworkers.
My first cousin once removed, Susan Youngblood Rawls, taught fifth grade for ten years at Crestwood Elementary School in Chesterfield County, Virginia. She is now the Director of a preschool. Energetic, enthusiastic, and smart as a whip, she is quite amazing! How lucky are all the little children, all the families who enter her school! She will help get them started in the right direction, will help lay the ground work for their happiness and their learning the rest of their lives! That is one tall order and a major accomplishment!
Lauren Ruby, daughter of Jamie Beck Skinner and another Youngblood cousin, teaches Kindergarten at Taneytown Elementary school in Carroll County, Maryland. Do you remember the poem by Robert Fulghum that reminds us what we need to succeed in life we learned in kindergarten? Well, that’s Lauren– preparing her students to succeed in life and in school! A tall order that she handles with aplomb!
Maryrose Youngblood, my first cousin once removed in my wonderful family tree, taught fourth grade like my sister for many years in Highland County, Virginia. These Youngblood women– we are hard workers, and we are directors at heart and by dna! Kind, efficient, smart…Maryrose was an outstanding teacher.
Kathy Lee Pack, daughter of Marshall Youngblood Lee and Robert Lee, has been teaching at the elementary school level in Florida for 31 years this year! All of those years were as a 4th grade teacher until the last two when she changed to second grade! Kathy has four adult children and grandchildren to keep her busy. She is my second cousin once removed, and a Youngblood woman through and through. By that I mean she can handle a room full of 30 restless 6 year olds and make them feel good about themselves because they chose to complete their math assignment while she was reading with a small group!
A cousin through the Voorus, Hogue, and Spangler family lines, Besse B. Voorus was born December 12, 1893. Miss Voorus was graduated from Pleasantville High School and received her bachelor of arts degree from Slippery Rock Normal School. She was an elementary school teacher for over 43 years, teaching in both the Oil City and Meadville School Districts in Pennsylvania. One of her great nieces remembers her mother talking about having Bessie as a teacher and her encouraging them to learn about Geography especially. Wouldn’t it have been a surprise to realize a little girl you taught in elementary school would grow up to marry your nephew and her children would be your great nieces and nephews!
Besse taught for forty-three years and died in 1992 at 98 years old! Can you imagine what she witnessed in her lifetime!? The things she witnessed and was able to teach her students–she lived through horse and buggy days to automobiles and rockets to the moon! She saw cooking with wood to gas, electricity and even microwaves! Television didn’t exist in her childhood, but later became a huge part of our lives! Talk about having to be adaptable! Just to live successfully she had to be willing to change, grow, and adapt–weren’t her students lucky to have such an experienced teacher and a versatile one!
Bessie’s sister, Dorothy Pearl Voorus Hogg was a teacher also, teaching in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania. Her husband was also a teacher who will be featured as well. Dorothy and Calvin had six children of their own, can you imagine how busy this lady was day in and day out! . She began teaching in a one-room school-house with all grades together, and taught long enough to enter a modern elementary school building in the 1950’s and into the early ’70s! This kind of longevity always inspires me.
Lena Voorus is the third sister to teach in the Elementary Schools of Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania! Born in 1889, Lena died in 1978 all in Venango County, Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, Lena had a stroke and became wheelchair bound. Her sisters took care of her and stayed supportive of each other. Her great nieces and nephews remember her as sweet and kind, a great tribute. What’s amazing to me, is that these women, born in the late 1800’s, at a time when women didn’t generally work outside the home, went out and got their education, and worked at a profession. That takes a lot of courage and fortitude, good for them!
My Great-Aunt Julia Houchins Nichols became an attorney. However, she was only 15 in 1900 when her mother died. Her father soon deserted his six children and moved out-of-state. Thank heavens the children did have a guardian angel and grandparents nearby. Nonetheless, never one to let grass grow under her feet, Julia went out and got a job teaching. The story goes that Julia, only a teen still, went to apply for a teaching job in the mountains of southwest Virginia in Patrick County, where she lived. The person interviewing her asked her what she could tell him that would impress him and make him think she was smart enough to teach. She told him she could tell him exactly how many boards for lumber he could get from any sized tree. She had caught his attention, and he pointed to a tree outside the window and said “Okay, tell me how many boards could you get from that tree? Julia solved the problem aloud, and her reasoning and math skills so impressed the man, he hired her on the spot! Later she told family that she was so thankful that her family member, I’m not sure who, had worked in a sawmill, so that she had learned this skill. I’m sure she was an excellent teacher, she had four younger brothers to wrangle with after her mother died, children didn’t scare her! Julia lived from 1885 to 1969, another witness to travel by horse to travel by rockets to the moon! She served as the very first female Assistant District Attorney in the State of Virginia. Julia was a force to be reckoned with, and was highly loved by her family and still is today by grandchildren who are now grandparents themselves!
Eight Special Education teachers, and ten Elementary Education teachers–what a group to be proud of, but they are not all of the educators in our family! In the next post I will tell you about our Middle and High School teachers as well as our Principals, and College Professors! What a legacy they are creating or have left for our family.
It’s Fall– “time to go back to school”– it seems that teachers hear this call in their souls!
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