A Teacher who Makes a Difference – Remembrances of Sylacauga by Ginger Clifton
It only takes one teacher to make a difference in the life of a child. Each child is different, and that is not just a cliché. Yesterday was the first school day in National Education Week. Today is retired teachers’ day, my day, and I cannot let this emphasis pass without some stories. Today I am thinking of Marie Poole Tucker who made such a difference in Robert Clifton’s life that he called me last week and told me all about it and asked me to give a shout-out to Ms. Poole. I knew she had passed a few years back, and I did not know quite where to start. Robert suggested Mrs. Lynn Hodges, who taught with Ms. Poole at Main Avenue School might be a good source of information. She and Ms. Poole both taught fourth grade one year, and the next year Lynn moved up to fifth.
So I called Mrs. Hodges. After asking about Robert and his family, Lynn said, “Marie was a unique teacher. I could never put my finger on what she did that made such a difference in the lives of her students, particularly male students who were struggling with various issues whether it was reading, math, behavior, or social issues. I won’t call names, but I could name some of these fellows. Marie had an ability to recognize deficiencies and then to relate to those students, and motivate them.”
“She was no softie who let children slide when they were lazy or just did not want to put in the extra work to learn,” Robert said. “She was strict, and never quit pushing me to do my best. She would punish me, but I knew she loved me. I can’t really explain why she was so special, except to say she motivated me to want to do better. Even when she disciplined me, there was a twinkle in her eyes that made me know she cared about me and wanted me to succeed.” When Lynn Hodges said the same things, I knew I was on to something.
”When I taught fifth grade,” I could see that students who had been in Ms. Poole’s class the previous year were ready for fifth grade work, Ms. Hodges said. I was often puzzled about just what she had done to make such a difference.”
My next call was to Mrs. Mildred McKinney (Ralph) who was the much beloved school secretary at Mountain View School. Robert recognized her as a friend when he was in sixth grade at Mountainview, and then later reaffirmed that friendship, adult to adult, as a substitute teacher there. It is my opinion that Mildred made a large impact on the lives of Mountainview students and their parents. (I always embraced the idea that any teacher’s best friend in a school is the secretary and the custodian.)
Mildred was enthusiastic in relating her remembrances of Marie Poole, and told me so many things that I did not know that might explain something about what I have already written. Marie’s mother passed away when Marie was still young, leaving four brothers and three sisters at home. Her dad was so overwhelmed that some of the children were sent to live with relatives in other states. The family as she knew it dissolved, and Marie became the “Mama” to those who were still home. This interfered in her own education, and when she went back to graduate from East Highland High School in 1966, she was an adult, older than her fellow classmates. Rejecting the GED option, Marie wanted to graduate from East Highland School. She then went to Alabama State University and received both her B.S. and Master’s degree before she left there. She worked and went to school to accomplish these goals in her life.
Here in Sylacauga she worked for the Sylacauga Parks and Recreation Department at South Highland Playground. She was instrumental in getting a playground at Sunrise Park because she knew that children in this area had no access to playgrounds in other areas, including the ones downtown. Marie even worked at Avondale Mills during the period of her life when need was great and money was scarce. During this time, she became a mother to a daughter who chose a military career and later died from cancer. Marie Poole had a successful career with the Sylacauga City School System, working as a teacher at Main Avenue and Indian Valley. She later became the Librarian at Indian Valley School.
It was Mildred McKinney who put it together for me, that secret ingredient that made Marie Poole such a successful teacher. Mrs. McKinney said, “She looked at children in the light of her own experiences. She had been there and done that. She believed in children going as far as they could go and doing as much as they could do with the talents and opportunities they had been given.”
What a beautiful picture of “Golden Rule” teaching Marie Poole was. Each child who walks into a classroom has baggage. I stress each child because that is what I mean. Regardless of race, socioeconomic status, etc. Just as we are all sinners, we all have life event issues. Since teachers cannot go home with children, they just have to assess what the needs of each individual is. A teacher cannot do everything and should not have to take the parent’s role, but a teacher can love a child, just as he is, right where he is, and take him as far as she can in that brief time when God allows her make this difference. Thank you, Marie Poole, for making a difference in my son, my family, and my community. It was not so long ago at that.
With special thanks to Mrs. Lynn Hodges, Mrs. Mildred McKinney, and Robert Clifton for remembrances and to Marie Poole Tucker, a teacher who made a difference.