Thursday, April 20, 2006

Tribute to My High School English Teacher, Annie Pearl Long Crockett

Mrs. Annie Pearl Long Crockett, 95 years of age, a native of Marshall, TX and a long time resident of the Eastern Shore, died Wednesday, April 19, 2006 at a local health care facility.

Mrs. Crockett was a graduate of
Livingston State Teacher College and taught 32 years in public education in Alabama including Sumter County, Choctaw County, Alexander City and State School for the Deaf and Blind.

Mrs. Annie Pearl Long Crockett was my English teacher during my sophomore, junior and senior years at Benjamin Russell High School in Alexander City, Alabama. Mrs. Crockett was, without a doubt, the most difficult, most demanding teacher I have ever had. Every day in her class was a challenge. Every night meant preparing for the next day’s English class. No student wanted to go into Mrs. Crockett’s class unprepared. One steely glance from her eyes could send shivers down the spine of any student. We used silent prayer not to be called on when we were unprepared. God usually ignored us.

During the years since graduating in 1964, I have thought of Mrs. Crockett often. I have spent my life in careers requiring professional communication skills. Knowledge of English grammar, literature, research and writing taught to me by Mrs. Crockett, has been the foundation of my working life.

Back in the 1960’s, however, when I struggled to learn Chaucer in “Olde English,” or to type my research papers on a Remington portable typewriter, I must confess that I was not too happy with Mrs. Crockett’s requirements for excellence. As a teenager I could not imagine what possible use I would ever have for memorizing Chaucer in Olde English. However, I still can recite it; and more than once, I have amazed young English majors who seem never to have had to memorize anything. As for typing those research papers: no typing errors on any page! No erasures! There was no “wite-out” back then, either. Even if there were, Mrs. Crockett would not have allowed its use.

Mrs. Crockett was a stickler for proper research. We used Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition: Complete Course, the resource I continue to use today.

After choosing a research-paper topic from Mrs. Crockett’s list, we sought her approval for our outline. All our research had to be recorded on 3 X 5 cards, and properly documented, under the appropriate outline topic. Then all those cards had to be bundled and turned in for approval before we could proceed with the actual writing. Mrs. Crockett read every one of those cards! More often than not, my outline and my cards, were marked with red ink – suggestions, commands, really - for additional, or more in-depth, research. Then came the laborious writing and typing of the paper. Every quote had to be documented. Every non-original idea had to be attributed. Every source had to be listed in the bibliography.

I remember once laboring over the typing of a paper for Mrs. Crockett. In my tiredness, my trashcan was filling up with wadded-up typing paper, each containing one typing error. Long after my bedtime had passed, tired and stressed, I was still typing away. Finally, I was on the last page, the last paragraph, the last footnote. I hit the wrong typewriter key! Maybe I can erase and she won’t notice. Ha! Better type the final page again. Another try, another page – finally that page and my paper were ready for Mrs. Crockett’s scrutiny. I have that paper still: “CHRISTIANITY, BUDDHISM AND CONFUCISM: A Comparison and Contrast.” When Mrs. Crockett marked an “A” on that paper, I knew I had earned it. And, I knew that I knew how to write a research paper.

I still have many of the papers I wrote for Mrs. Crockett.
One paper that I wrote, about the death of my grandfather, entitled “Pa,” Mrs. Crockett asked if she could keep. Heady with Mrs. Crockett’s hard-earned praise for my paper, I agreed. It seems strange in today’s age of instant communication, with copies from printers, copiers, emails and faxes flying back and forth, to think there was only one copy of that paper. I often have wished I could reread that paper; however, it has been a point of personal pride to me that Mrs. Crockett wanted to keep it.

As for English grammar, we parsed, we diagrammed, we memorized, we practiced over and over the rules of usage. We practiced so much, that, to this day, hearing incorrect grammar is like hearing the screech of nails on a blackboard.

Mrs. Crockett has been a life-long source of inspiration to so many of her students. To others, she remains a source of deep-seated dislike and disdain. She asked too much. She interfered in our personal lives. Once she came into the hall where students congregated between classes. She walked up to me and my "steady" and announced, "You are standing too close. Move apart." We did.

Mrs. Crockett let her students know that she expected us to succeed – not just in her classroom, but in life. She forced us to work hard; and when we succeeded in her classroom, we knew we had earned it. She instilled in us the desire for excellence.

Mrs. Annie Pearl Long Crockett was the best teacher that I have ever had. For that, I thank her and I praise her.