Once again I’ve been drawn to the past as I reflect on retirement from teaching. He was my third-grade teacher at Hartley Elementary School. He was a grown-up authority figure in my eyes, but in retrospect I see a young, very green teacher, fresh out of college. More important for the third-graders that year, Mr. Shaeberle was …a man. I am sure men had taught at Hartley Elementary before Mr. Shaeberle arrived, but he was the first one I’d encountered. And even more novel for the third-graders in his class, we were in a room with students a grade ahead of us. It was an exciting year! Nothing like the previous two spent with Miss Spotts, though that’s when I learned to read and had my first traumatic experience with academic failure (I didn’t follow the directions for coloring the picture!)
I don’t know why the classes were combined the year Mr. Schaeberle joined the Hartley teaching staff, because the following year, half-way through 4th grade we were once again assigned to single-grade classrooms. Louise, my very best friend in the whole wide world, and I moved across the hall to scary, mean Mrs. Bierbower’s room. Other 4th graders went to learn from Mr. Ness…yes, we now had a 2nd male in the teaching ranks! And then, oh joy, after enduring a long year with “Mrs. Beer Bottle” once again Mr. Shaeberle was teaching my 5th grade class. Of the many teachers who left marks on my life, I think none was more influential than Mr. Schaeberle.
There was the 1956 Presidential election. Not many Democrats among my classmates, but Mr. Schaeberle made it OK to buck the crowd. Fascinated with rocks, I took “samples” to school to ask for help identifying them. I’m sure Mr. Schaeberle knew as much about geology as I did but as we discussed the stone’s properties I learned it was OK to ask for help figuring out a problem. And then there were the social studies lessons. It was the year our lessons followed a family on a road trip across the country, starting in New England and stopping to explore geography and history along the way. Why am I a historian? I am sure Mr. Schaeberle was instrumental in planting that seed as his class mapped the route from coast to coast.
Mr. Schaeberle died a few weeks ago. I had not seen him in decades, had not thought of him in many years. His obituary noted his career in educational administration and the doctorate he earned well after those first years at Hartley. I remember, in contrast, a young teacher who made me want to learn, and for his enthusiasm and encouragement I will always be grateful.
Those of us who teach should all be so fortunate if somewhere there is a former student for whom we might have been a Mr. Schaeberle.