This past week, a Facebook friend from high school posted the obituary for Margurette Troutman, an English teacher who impacted the lives of hundreds of students in Tyler, Texas during her long career. Mrs. Troutman’s unwavering intellect allowed no room for sloppy thinking or laziness, and, as an English teacher myself, I now know that she worked even harder than we did. In his post about Mrs. Troutman, Gene Barron wrote: “Very few ever possess such a Gift for reaching high school students at this difficult point in Life.” Again, having walked in her shoes, I know the truth of that statement.
Gene and I also chatted about other two other terrific teachers we shared in junior high: Twila Kimbrough and Mrs. Hendrix. That we remember these three women and the difference they made in our lives more than forty years later pretty much says it all.
Mrs. Kimbrough, in particular, played a critical role in my life. She was my English teacher twice during junior high, and she became a friend and mentor I continued to visit after I’d moved on to high school. Years passed, and though I thought of her often we lost touch until 2006, when I was preparing for a trip to South Africa. In preparation for that journey, I pulled out my battered, seventh-grade copy of Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country, which we studied with Mrs. Kimbrough. Rereading it, I was struck by the degree to which the book and her teaching had shaped my thinking about discrimination and inequality, and I marveled at the courage it took to teach that material in Texas during the early seventies, when racism was still very much a part of the air we breathed.
In our exchange of messages about this trio of amazing teachers, Gene wrote that it seemed less certain “one would get three or more enlightened English teachers in a public school system in Texas in 2015. I hope and pray, however, that those teachers exist outside elite private schools.” I’m hoping and praying along with Gene, because great teachers and life-changing classroom experiences should be part of every student’s education, not just those who attend elite private schools.
As a final note: after finishing Cry the Beloved Country again, I felt I had to find Mrs. Kimbrough and tell her that I am a different—better—person because of her teaching. Thanks to the Internet, I located her, and we have enjoyed several years of lively correspondence. She expressed gratitude that I’d gotten in touch. I assured her the gratitude was all mine.
My novel, Yard Sale, is available at Amazon.