What makes a good teacher?
Think about those most memorable teachers who you had when going through school. It might have been in elementary school, or that social studies teacher in junior high or perhaps the high school teacher that caused you to pursue a course of study that led you to a career.
What was it about those teachers? I think back to my first-grade teacher, Mrs. Dougherty, and her gentle kindness in teaching a skinny first-grader to read. I think back to the tough love of Mrs. Courtney in fifth grade and her unwillingness to accept anything but our best. I think of Mr. Sanko's science classes in junior high and Mrs. Bobo's senior English class where I learned lessons in composition and grammar that I use to this day.
What made them special? First, they knew their stuff. If they were science teachers, they knew their discipline. If they were English teachers, they knew literature and grammar.
Second, they were able to transfer that knowledge to the students.
Third, they cared. Once inside their classroom you had no doubt that they had a sincere interest in your academic success and that of the other students.
Fourth, they wanted us to learn.
Fifth, there was something in their personality that made them stand out from the rest.
I thought about these qualities of a teacher this week when I learned of the untimely passing of Everett Summerall. Everett was the sixth-grade music teacher at Schofield Middle School during the eight years I was a teacher there. His classroom was in a mobile unit not far from the windows of my classroom.
Because of that proximity and the fact that we both taught sixth grade, I got to know Everett well. During his career in Aiken County schools, thousands of young people crossed the threshold of his room and got a new appreciation for the world of music.
For sixth-graders, a class in music is not the most interesting of courses. But Everett always seemed to get a lot across to his charges.
On the final meeting of the term for each of his classes, he allowed his students to bring their music to share with the class. It didn't matter if it was Loretta Lynn, AC/DC or MC Hammer, he let the students highlight the music they loved. I imagine it was because Everett loved music and understood that when it comes to musical taste there is no right or wrong.
Everett is one of those unforgettable sorts we are lucky enough to cross paths with during our lifetime. He was an Aiken original. He knew people. He knew who was kin to whom. He could recite chapter and verse about someone whose grandmother's aunt lived in a certain house downtown and worked at a certain store.
If you ever met Everett, you probably took notice of his flair for fashion. He had a different eye for clothing than many of us. For him, the louder the better. I remember a particular pair of slacks that he wore to school on occasion. They were comprised of every color of the rainbow, and a few beyond that. It was like a patchwork quilt of reds, blues, greens, yellows and oranges.
Many people who knew Everett were acquainted with a different side beyond that of a public school teacher. They knew him from the music he played at a number of churches during his career. He was a spectacular performer on the organ. A couple of years ago he served as interim organist at the church I attend, St. John's United Methodist. He looked at home on the bench working the keys and the pedals. And the sound that came out of the pipes was something to behold.
Everett was an unforgettable man. Those who walked into his classroom undoubtedly smile when they think of that sixth-grade music teacher. Those who knew the man with the bright trousers can chuckle about that aspect of his personality. And those who knew the talented musician marvel at the sounds that he could elicit from an instrument. All of that is now gone except for the memories.
But now there is a different Everett. I have a vision of him in heaven, playing the organ for a heavenly choir. He is seated at the bench of the biggest organ ever, playing with the passion of someone who loves his craft while his angelic choir sings to his accompaniment. And if you look closely, when his choir robe's hem comes up just a bit, you can catch a glimpse of that pair of multi-colored pants.
Everett Summerall, one of Aiken's originals, may he rest in peace.
Jeff Wallace is the retired editor of the Aiken Standard.