Gift of Lessons



The Gift of Lessons

Presented to AHS teachers who made a difference in my life ...

at the 35th Reunion of the Class of 1955  

by Beverly Smith Zacharias (1990)

Recently I watched as Oprah Winfrey wept and squealed as she greeted her special guest her favorite teacher, whom she was seeing for the first time in many years.  I wept too, because I understood that feeling and I reflected on all the gifts of gain I received from 'teachers of life' at Albany High teachers who influenced me, on the way to becoming me.  I cannot pretend that all was perfect, but I see very clearly now that whether those teachers touched me in a positive or negative way I became more because of them.  I had more than one favorite teacher.  And several made a difference

  Billy Bragg dictated the next word " friv-o-lous; definition: 1) of little weight or importance; 2) lacking in seriousness, irresponsible, self-indulgent; 3) but the best way to remember just think of Bevly Smith."  The class laughed and I, embarrassed, giggled.  It was but one of his ways of teaching (done in jest, I trust), a tool to help us remember those boringly long, vocabulary lists, which were assigned weekly.  Thirty-six years have passed and I have since carried my weight in more ways than one, and have reached some plains of importance; I have had my moments of seriousness and am viewed as a responsible person; however, I do admit I may indulge in my 'self' from time to time!  Yet, to this day, were I to see this teacher, he would point that once long and bony finger at me and say, "How's old Frivolous?!!!, and I would hug him with joy!  This same man impatiently told me in front of classmates that I took on so many projects, I never did justice to any of them; I was terribly embarrassed and hurt.  Perhaps there was a better way to have brought that to my attention ...but it did get my attention and when I become over-involved, as I am still so prone to do, those words have served as a necessary leveler for me in many situations through the years.

During those years, I never realized the importance of giving 100% toward becoming the student I should have been.  I chose to give other interests my attention; in particular music, church and boys (the order is random).  In spite of myself, I learned, and I give full credit to those teachers who recognized values in me beyond the graded report card.


Such was Mary (Ma) Hudson.  Give me Math?  Give me Greek!  This teacher was an outstanding Algebra teacher; however, she would have to be extraordinary to penetrate the mental block I had acquired toward numbers through the years.  My grades in her class were terrible, and getting worse.  On one lunch period, I sat in the auditorium, looking at graded papers bearing failing marks, which needed a parental signature ...I sat for a very long time ... then, I gained the consent of my mind to forge my mother's name to those papers.  Several days later, the teacher made a call to my mother to discuss the gravity of my grades.  Together, they discovered the truth about the signatures.  The embarrassment was unbearable when Mother confronted me, especially when she advised that the teacher was, at that very moment, on her way out to have a personal visit with me.  How could I face this teacher who was so austere and seldom smiled?  How could I survive her certain wrath?  Death would have been a kinder solution!  I watched as she drove her old model Ford into our driveway.  The doorbell did not ring ... it tolled.  I stood ready to receive what I knew I deserved.  But her voice was even and calm as she began to talk with me, giving me one of the most positive lessons on self worth I have ever learned.  She was kind, she was gentle, she was loving; none of which had I ever seen in her with my veiled eyes.  She said all that she intended to say, smiled and put her arms around me and gave me a warm hug.  After that, she met with me every day after class to tutor me, but I never learned anything in my math class that equaled the more important lesson taught by my Math teacher.

My heart often hurt for the beautiful, genteel Helen Long, whose subject I thought a waste of my precious time.  We had heard stories that her life's "love" was tragically taken from her early in her life;  but I noticed  she always seemed to look ahead, never backward.  She was an excellent typing teacher, and toward the autumn of her life, she found a new love.  Who would have ever known that one day I would be alone (though for different reasons), and that the skills she taught would enable me to support myself?  To this day I look to her as my role model, hoping that perhaps someday, a very special love will happen for me as well!!


Every day I followed the circles formed by Maynard Sell's pointer fingers and thumbs, that peculiar method of directing the AHS Glee Club, which year after year accumulated superior ratings.  I could have easily abandoned the piano at that point in my life; it held no particular interest for me after my mother let me quit my lessons.  Yet I have been keenly aware for a long time that accompanying the Glee Club kept me connected with my piano.  I was shattered when he did not select me for a special music award when I graduated - we had experienced a falling out and it was his way of having the last word; but he did select me as his accompanist when I was a Freshman, and my life has been musically full and rich as a result.  I could not be more grateful.


Small in statue, but tall in insight, Thelma Plant taught me about being a leader.  When no one else could see that particular quality in me, her instincts were finely tuned, and she just knew I was something more than "frivolous."  She molded, shaped and pushed me toward some of my most fulfilling accomplishments then, and certainly wherever my future might take me.  She also ingrained this very important fact in the hearts and minds of all Albany High graduates: when reciting or singing the Alma Mater, one should either use AHL-ma MAH-ter, or AL-ma MAY-ter, but never, NEVER should one use a combination of the two!!!

I wonder if these teachers are aware of the gifts they have given my life?  Do they understand their vital-ness to my life?  I imagine not fully.  Perhaps my response to them is long over-due.  Perhaps the time to let them know is now, as I thank them for being there and for touching my life in monumental ways!    

Back to Top