Honor roll

`TEACHERS,'' a film starring Nick Nolte, articulates the need for pride in and honor of the teaching profession. I've seen it more than once on cable television, and it always reminds me of an incident that startled an American secretary of state. Pakistan's then-Navy chief, Admiral H.M.S. Chaudhri, was lodged at Blair House during his US visit. One of his first requests was for the presence of Prof. Peter Carter Speers, long a medical missionary in the Punjab and in the 1950s a consultant to Pakistan's public relations adviser.

When Professor Speers entered Blair House, Admiral Chaudhri was in conversation with the US Secretary of State, Dean Acheson. The admiral at once set off down the entry hall at flank speed. When he came within a yard of Professor Speers, the admiral dropped to his knees and brushed Speers' shoe tops with his forehead.

Acheson was agape.

Urged to his feet, Admiral Chaudhri gave Speers a more traditional greeting, and they exchanged a spate of newsy conversation. The admiral's schedule made the visit relatively short, and the Pakistani visitor went to his quarters to prepare for a round of calls.

It was a good thing; the secretary of state was beside himself with curiosity. As soon as the admiral was out of sight, Acheson approached Professor Speers.

``What was that all about?'' he asked.

``I was his teacher,'' Professor Speers replied.

Acheson had to be satisfied with that. Professor Speers did not feel called upon to explain that teachers receive their due respect in some parts of the world.

I never recall this story, told to me by the professor, without great pangs of guilt that I never fully appreciated my own teachers; or at least not until it was too late.

How I would like to retract my repetition of my uncle's hasty remark that the seventh grade's Bird Club was a ``waste of time.'' It would be such a pleasure to tell Mrs. Langfield that I now glory in a life list of impressive and global proportions.

Miss Holt? Where were you when I stood in a Somali refugee camp and observed the desperate efforts of mothers to get enough food for their children? I recalled your recounting to us your experiences as a social worker among the depression-driven poor of back-country Florida. The hopelessness of mothers in 1930s Florida and 1980s Somalia was very similar. You gave me another dimension to what I saw.

Mrs. Wooton, I wonder if the school board ever frowned at you because in the early 1940s you told your white students the truth about conditions for black people around us. You explained to us that the spirituals and worksongs we studied were sad for good reason. I remember once you pointed out one lyric in which a grown man was referred to as ``Boy ...'' I think you asked us to imagine how we would feel if someone called our grandfathers ``Boy ...'' Of course, it was many years before I realized the significance of the almost subliminal lessons you provided.

There are probably many academic matters that have slipped away despite the good work all of you devoted to my years in your classrooms. You would probably be embarrassed if I were to drop at your feet and brush your shoetops with my forehead. How can I tell you there are some things I never forgot?

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