Fifty years ago this week, I signed my first contract to teach in an Ohio public school; 11th grade English. I was twenty-two years old and naively assumed my students would love English as much as I did. The second day of school I was proved wrong. I passed out the textbooks and told the class to turn to page 25. Then I noticed the Caucasian, young man with curly red hair, holding his text upside down. “Mr. Simmons, please turn your book upright so you can read.”
Much to my horror, his face turned bright red. He stammered, “Sorry.” And thus began my relationship with 16-year-old Stanley Simmons who was almost illiterate–he couldn’t spell his last name. Stan was the best he could do. I met with Stan every day in the library during our lunch period trying to teach him to read and write. In early October he asked, “Do you know what it’s like to die?”
“No, Stan, I don’t. Why are you asking?”
“I’m just wondering.” I was so shaken by his question, I went to the guidance counselor and asked him to meet with Stan. The counselor supposedly did and had no cause for concern, nor intervention. Yet, Stan continued to talk to me about death. In early November it got worse. Stan announced: ” Don’t make me write today. I can’t.”
“And why would that be?” With that, he flopped his very bruised, swollen right arm across the library table. “Stan, what happened? Please talk to me.”
“I wanted to find out what a car felt like. I put my arm on the driveway and had my brother drive over it with a car.” I fought for words.
“Let’s go to the school nurse and have your arm checked.”
Stan’s reply, “No, I’m ok; I just can’t write.”
Fifty years ago, teachers had to follow the rigid line and staff, which thankfully changed over time. I begged the counselor to see Stan.
Holiday break, and I went to my parents’ house for two-week hiatus. My mom found me outside shoveling snow from the sidewalk, ‘Sue, Dr. Jackson wants to speak with you.” My direct supervisor? Dr. Jackson, a formidable, no-nonsense, superlative educator? Whoa, why? I knew I turned in my grades.
We exchanged greetings of the season, “Sue, Stan Simmons committed suicide last night. He hung himself by an electric cord in the closet.” I was devastated! I was twenty-two- years old; teenagers didn’t do that. I grieved. After school resumed in January, I was sitting in the teachers’ room grading papers, and the counselor walked in.
“Hey, Sue, did you hear about Stan?” I nodded. “You know he was one student I couldn’t get interested in.” His statement became my life-changing moment. I earned both a Master’s degree and doctorate in educational leadership. I have been a high school principal, school superintendent, associate superintendent at the Arizona Department of Education, and an adjunct university professor. I volunteered, I was co-president of United Parent Council, and in 2000 was elected to a school board.
Many folk assume I’ve received compensation for my twenty-year service–not. School board members in Arizona receive no monetary benefit, just the joy of watching a play, touring an art exhibit, attending numerous sporting events, handing a diploma to a first-generation high graduate, and reading to a class. Priceless. Further, as a public education advocate, I’ve also put my money where my mouth is. And no, you’ll not find my name among the gifts and donations section of a board meeting. Anonymous is fine with me.
In closing, Stan Simmons is NOT a figment of my imagination. It is a true story, which about I rarely talk–too painful. I’ve been a blogger since June 2013, under a private domain name which I own and with a service (Word Press), which I pay. I’ve published two novels, three English reference books, and the story of my daughter’s cancer nightmare. I’m an English major; I’ve never taken anyone’s words as my own without citation.
But most importantly, I do for our public school children what I could not do for Stan.
6 thoughts on “Stan and I: 50 Years Later”
You have been an amazing advocate for education. Sometimes the true stories are the hardest to talk about as a teacher. I remember my first year of teaching you volunteered in my classroom, helping kids learn to read. I know you will continue to support public education the way you always have for the rest of your life. Thank you for making a difference!
Nice try, but the hundreds of families that wrote to you regarding how their students are suffering and you mocked and made fun of them DO NOT believe you.
Your August 9th blog proves you are NOT helping anyone. No amount of pandering for support is going to change what you have done. We know it wasn’t a figment of your imagination, we know that we wrote the letters asking for you to support our kids and you turned your back on them.
Most people like you who have spent decades focused on just academics have no understanding or appreciation for what sports can do for young people. How can someone that wrote the most despicable blog about football families and student athletes now say they care about students? You DID NOT care about them on August 9th. You did not care about them when you told Channel 3 that they were a figment of your imagination!
We will hold you accountable for the negative impacts you are causing on the mental and emotional health of the student athletes you pretend to care for. If you want to make a real and meaningful difference, stand up for the football players and families during the next board meeting. Let them know that you support them and the safe guidelines for them to compete this season. Then and only then will we believe you care about ALL the students!
David: Thank you for your comment. However, you don’t know of my advocacy for high school sports, nor college sports. Instead you have chosen to trash me. So be it. However as a school board member, my first priority during the pandemic is to get both students and staff safely back to face-to-face instruction, before COVID cases spike again. I’ve NO issue with following AIA guidelines and will say so with my one vote out of 4 others when and if it appears on an agenda. However, AIA must agree to indemnify PVUSD of any COVID law suit liability due to sport participation.
If you are truly interested in my advocacy, send me your email address, and I’ll gladly provide you with documentation.
I appreciate all that you’ve accomplished and what you’ve done for the PVUSD! I have a son that’s a senior and a daughter that’s a freshman. They have been enrolled at PV schools since kindergarten. Both of them have had great educational experiences! I love PVHS and the district.
You’re recent post about “Stan” made me rethink my position and thoughts about you. I apologize that you had to experience this.
For some kids all they have is sports. They don’t have a support system at home or they don’t relate to teachers or counselors. The team and coach is often the only family these kids have. This is where they find acceptance in life. Sports often drives students in the classroom. It gives them a reward for their efforts.
I fear that the fallout of missing sports this fall will have a negative effect on many students. There are so many student athletes that have teachers that can’t get interested in them. They are seen as jocks that only care about sports. The teachers don’t understand how crucial coaches and their teams are to these children.
The life lessons taught on the fields and courts are just as important if not more important then those that are taught in a classroom. They are making men and women out of boys and girls. I have witnessed this myself. My son is a 2 time Pride Factor Award winner and received the Trojan Football Character award last year. I’m forever thankful to Coach Davis and his coaching staff for all they have done for my son.
The Trojan Creed
“I am a Trojan. To be a Trojan I must have unmatched character, discipline, toughness and academic excellence. It’s a great day to be a Trojan!”
In closing when you make your decision about fall sports please remember that there are many kids that will feel alone, hopeless, and lost like “Stan” if their seasons are canceled.
Jeremy: Thank you for your email, and please know I agree sports and the arts play sometimes even “life-saving” roles in students. My own PVUSD children learned invaluable lessons from their varsity coaches.
However, the pandemic is the heaviest burden I’ve had to bear. I want kids back in school, face-to-face with their teachers, but I want to keep our staffs, students, and families safe. I want students to play football, present a theater production, and hold a magnificent band or choral performance. I read and I study; I listen to epidemiologists. There are no clear answers. And I’ve spent some time studying the NBA Bubble model–an interesting approach to coping with COVID.
I’m one of five board members. I will not vote to cancel sports as long as sport participation is sanctioned by the AIA and the state of Arizona. You have my word. S
What part of we are in a pandemic do you not understand Jeremy? You people are so selfish you dont care for anyone. Sports are not important you need to get your priorities straight and stop shaming others in to doing what you want. You and your little group are vile people need to shut up, give the superintendent kudos for handling the district concerns and making hard choices. You are a perfect example of white privilege your discrimination disgusts me.