Thank you Mrs. Barry wherever you are.
I've had a number of inspirational teachers. I'll get around to writing about the others another time, but I thought I'd single out Mrs. Barry.
My family moved a lot when I was growing up. This did not make for a smoothly consistent education. Changing school districts (whole states usually) meant that by the time I got to high school I was either behind or ahead in many areas. As an example-I had a required shop class in junior high in one school district, and in the next, the same course with the same textbook was an advanced high school course. By contrast, I changed school districts at an age which just about guaranteed my handwriting will never be legible-skipped right over the whole penmanship notion. I also lost out in the matter of English grammar.
This was unacceptable to Mrs Barry. When she discovered my deficiencies-and that didn't take very long-she resolved to repair them. My cooperation and her success were not open to debate. She called my mother and explained she would be keeping me after school for some remedial English until I met her standards. Well, she pulled it off. Thanks to Mrs Barry I can string words together after a fashion.
She was one of those stereotypical white-haired old ladies. A decade after I graduated, she retired. I was saddened to learn that in her later years she suffered from Alzheimer's, though from all reports she dealt with it quite well, at least in its earlier stages.
I expect there were a lot of us over the years. I wonder how many ever went back and thanked her. I did go back and visit the school after moving off to college-my mother worked there, and I dropped in to see her. Mrs Barry saw me in the hall between classes, asked how things were going. When I described the volume of reading and writing required of just one Honors English Lit course at the U of M, she dragged me into her classroom and had me tell the class about what sort of workload to expect.
Dale Austin, March, 2006
All images and text Copyright Dale Austin, 1962-2008