History teacher Darrell Jones: US Veteran and Chalkboard Champion

On Veterans Day, the entire country pauses to express appreciation to our nation’s heroic veterans for all they have done, including laying their lives on the line, to protect our American freedoms. One such veteran is Darrell Jones, a middle school history teacher in Mississippi.

As a younger man, Darrell served in the United States Air Force for 20 years. On active duty from 1991 to 2011, he was deployed over two dozen times, including stints in Iraq. During his years of service, the now-retired Technical Sergeant E-6 worked as a crew chief and as an aircraft mechanic.

Darrell grew up in Buffalo, New York. After he graduated high school in 1988, he enrolled in college, where he completed three years of study. He interrupted his studies to join the military, but once he retired from the Air Force in 2011, he used his GI benefits to complete his degree. He earned his bachelor’s in secondary education from Mississippi State University in 2014.

This valiant veteran now works as a 7th grade history teacher at Armstrong Middle School in Starkville, Mississippi. “People ask me all the time why I became a teacher after working hard in the military for 20 years,” says Darrell. “I say…I want to continue to serve my country and take care of our children.” He is as dedicated to his work with students as he was to his work in the military. “My goal is to show my students the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day, without taking the joy away from the holiday,” asserts Darrell. “I want them to remember we can honor those who have given their lives for our country and appreciate what they have done while also cherishing the fact that we get to spend the day with friends and family.”

Here is the American hero and Chalkboard Champion with some of his kids. Thank you for all your service, Darrell!

America’s Wild West tamed by frontier schoolmarms

America’s Wild West was tamed in part due to the talented and dedicated women who served as frontier schoolteachers. The pioneering women who became teachers during this period of our nation’s history were indeed a special breed. At the turn of the century, females were expected to be dependent upon their husbands, fathers, or other male relatives. It was extremely unusual, and not at all encouraged, for a woman to support herself and function independently. Nevertheless, many intelligent and self-reliant women in search of personal freedom and adventure joined the Westward movement as schoolmarms.

The stereotype of a frontier schoolteacher was that of an unattractive spinster or a prim and proper young miss. In reality, she was often neither of those. Many of these ladies came from influential and affluent Eastern families. A few were filled with burning ambition, and others were seeking a better life, and perhaps some were seeking a husband of like mind. In general, though, they were dedicated practitioners of their profession. Despite primitive working conditions, uninviting classrooms, low wages, and overwork, these stalwart women introduced literacy, culture, and morality to the roughneck communities they served. A few of these teachers became missionaries, others became suffragettes, and one of them—Jeannette Rankin of Montana—even went on to become the first woman to be elected to the United States House of Representatives!

Our society owes these frontier schoolmarms a great debt. Read more about pioneering teachers in my book, Chalkboard Champions, available through amazon.com or Barnes and Noble. Click on the link to find out how to get a copy of the book. Enjoy!

Susan Mills: The science teacher who founded the first women’s college in California

American history offers many examples of extraordinary educators. This blog spotlights just a few of them. Today’s focus is on Susan Tolman Mills, a secondary school teacher who established the first women’s college in California.

Susan Tolman was born in Enosburg, Vermont, on November 18, 1825. One of eight children, she was the daughter of homesteaders who operated a thriving business. Her father owned a tannery and her mother was a homemaker. Susan’s mother was especially insistent that her six daughters become educated, and after the family relocated to Ware, Massachusettes, all the daughters attended Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. Following her graduation, Susan taught classes in science and theology there for three years.

In 1848, the young educator married Cyrus Taggart Mills, a Presbyterian missionary. The adventurous newlyweds traveled to Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka. Cyrus became the principal of a seminary for boys, while Susan taught domestic skills to girls in the local schools.

In 1860, the couple moved to Honolulu, Hawaii, where they took charge of the Punahou School. There Susan taught geography, geology, chemistry, and botany. She introduced physical education to the female students. She also dedicated her energy to improving the food choices and other amenities provided by the school.

In 1864, Susan and Cyrus relocated to California, with ambitions of establishing a school of their own. Their goal was to provide equal education and opportunities for women. The year after their arrival in the state they purchased a girls’ seminary in Benicia, just east of Vallejo in Solano County. They named their institution Mills Seminary. The couple spent several years improving their school by expanding the number of course offerings and recruiting qualified teachers. In 1871, they sold this property and moved their school to Oakland, on the eastern shore of the San Francisco Bay. This new facility, with four-story buildings, dining halls, and a high central observatory named Mills Hall, was long considered the most beautiful education building in California. Eventually the girls’ school established by the Mills was transformed into Mills College, the first women’s college in the state. The college still serves young women as a liberal arts college to this day. After Susan’s beloved husband passed away, Susan continued to serve as the principal of Mills College, expertly performing her administrative duties.

In 1901, Susan was awarded an honorary doctorate from her alma mater, Mount Holyoke, recognizing her extraordinary contributions to education. At the time, the trustees of Punahou commented that Susan, “met and overcame obstacles with equanimity; she accomplished great work with poor facilities; she drew her inspiration from the dull routine of a busy life.”

Susan Mills retired in 1909 at the age of 84. She passed away three years later, on December 12, 1912, in her home, the Vermont cape house she and her husband had built on the Mills campus. This talented and industrious educator was interred at Sunnyside Cemetery, located on the college grounds.

Chalkboard Champions and Hurricane Harvey: Wading into Rising Waters

As empathetic Americans look for ways to help fellow citizens forced to cope with the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, Texas teachers are undoubtedly wondering what they can do to help ease the distress of their precious kids when they return to the classroom.

As usual when I hear news stories about storm damage, I am reminded of a book I read which tells the tale of a remarkable teacher who opened a school for New Orleans evacuees following Hurricane Katrina.

When surging flood waters from Hurricane Katrina forced thousands of families to flee from their homes, New Orleans residents had their minds more on survival than on whether their children would be missing school. But when a group of evacuee parents who landed in New Iberia, Louisiana, realized they would not be returning to their homes any time soon, they knew they had to find a strategy to help their children cope with their enforced and unexpected exile. They pooled their financial resources and hired a fellow refugee, teacher Paul Reynaud, to establish a one-room school for their children in an abandoned office building. The story furnishes valuable lessons for dealing with this latest example of nature’s fury.

The book is entitled Sugarcane Academy: How a New Orleans Teacher and His Storm-Struck Students Created a School to Remember.The author of this intriguing true story is journalist Michael Tisserand, and the volume was published in 2007 by Harcourt. You can find the book on amazon.com at the following link:

For other intriguing stories about remarkable teachers in America’s sometimes turbulent history, check out my book Chalkboard Champions. You will find it on the web site for Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Dr. Kim Lawe: From Her Escape from Communist Viet Nam to Her Work in the Classroom

Here is the inspirational story of a very amazing educator, Dr. Kim Lawe. I worked with her at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Eastvale, CA, before I retired last June. In this brief video she shares a little about her family’s escape by boat from Communist Viet Nam following the fall of Saigon, and her work as an educator.