Teachers' lessons go beyond textbooks

February 23, 2011 

Sometimes my husband, Willie, wakes up and asks why so much noise is being made. I am usually doing something like putting away things in the bedroom or searching for items that I need for whatever I'm doing.

Sometimes he acts his age, and sometimes he thinks he has skipped a few years and the fountain of youth is still with him. He is at the age that Benjamin Franklin was when he invented bifocals in 1785, and the same age as Lena Horne when she won a Grammy -- her fourth in 1996. (I'll keep Willie's age a secret for this column but leave those clues for the curious.)

He is not one to hold on to many cards or letters; that is a task of mine. What he does hold onto is the love for his students and his years of teaching at Robert Smalls Junior High School.

Every so often someone will stop to share memories. Often a class will invite him to a special event or he will receive a letter appreciation arrive. Today I share one such letter:

Dear Mr. Faulkner,

Thirty-five years ago you were instrumental in encouraging me to pursue a career in teaching. That was one of the most important decisions I had to make in my life, and I must say I have never regretted it. Teaching has been very rewarding, not financially, for sure, but spiritually and personally. Knowing the lives that I have touched and the lives of those students who have touched my life makes me proud.

I have heard thousands of family stories, academic successes and sometimes job failures that are all part of life and growing up in a diverse society. I have truly enjoyed 99.9 percent of my students. One hundred percent is truly unrealistic, and we all know that.

On Dec. 1, I officially retired. I will continue to teach until the end of the school year on a letter of agreement. I have tears of joy when I hear the word "retirement." It has been a long time coming, and I am not sad. It is time.

I want to thank you for being the role model by which I tried to guide my career. You were knowingly or unknowingly always a player on the team that got me started with my career. My initial goal was to just teach temporarily until I could get a job as a writer in a big city. Oh well, three and half decades later, I can move to do that something else -- in my small city of Columbia.

Thank you for your support.

Sincerely,

Mary Mitchell Wells

Twenty-one years after leaving Robert Smalls, Willie is teaching in the after-school program at Whale Branch Elementary School. Once again, his love for setting the pace for students is in bloom. He wants to see students do their best.

The celebration of turning the page is priceless, whether it is to another day or another year. It means so much when you have touched the life of a student; to know that while you were just doing your job, the mold was cast.

Easy Beef Stew

Makes: 4 servings

1/2 cup flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 pound beef for stew, cubed

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 1/2 cups beef broth or water

2 onions, peeled and sliced

3 potatoes, peeled and cubed

3 carrots, peeled and sliced

3 stalks celery, sliced

In lunch-size paper bag, combine flour, salt and pepper; put pieces of meat in sack, a handful at a time, and shake to coat. Reserve flour. Place oil in a large covered skillet and heat over medium heat. Add meat and brown on all sides. Add beef broth or water, cover and cook over low heat until tender, about 2 1/2 hours. Add onions, potatoes, carrots and celery. Cook until vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.

Slowcooker Beans and Ham

1 (16-ounce) package Great Northern white beans

2 cups cubed ham (use leftover ham or one ham hock)

8 cups water

1 carrot, chopped

1/2 cup chopped onions

2 ribs celery, chopped

1 teaspoon salt

Fresh ground pepper

Wash beans and put into slowcooker with all ingredients. Cook on high for 4 to 5 hours.

Port Royal resident Ervena Faulkner is a retired educator who has always had an interest in food and nutrition. E-mail her at features@beaufortgazette.com.

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