Tales of Xenia: High school teachers worth remembering

17 May

Going to high school in the 60s was exciting. Because of the newly minted anti-establishment revolution almost all of my classmates were of the opinion that while they might not all like each other we certainly liked each other more than we liked any adult. There was a continual loosely agreed upon conspiracy to do things we thought were right to do whether the teachers and administrators and parents thought so or not. As a matter of fact, the more they disliked it the more attractive it was. This was not normal generational perception differences, this was organized disobedience. It manifested itself in many ways, in dress and grooming to name two major ones. In breaking social mores was another.

When I was a sophomore girls were required to kneel at the request of the counselors to check the length of their skirts. If the skirt did not touch the floor the girl was sent home to change clothes, or her mother was called to bring her something more appropriate to wear. By the time I was a senior girls routinely kept a belt in their lockers, the purpose of which was to provide a method for rolling up your skirt to mid-thigh, the belt would hold the extra fabric you rolled up in place. Required to wear dresses or skirts, we were still able to go against the grain. Our dresses were not shirtwaists, they were shifts, a-lines, mod in other words, much more like the clothes shown in fashion magazines.  Madras plaid had its popular time with its ability to change color each time it was washed. Because there were fewer rules for shoes and accessories wedges and sandals and other trendy shoes began to appear as well. We thought we were very progressive. Of course, by the time I went back to do student teaching four years later there was no dress code at all and I turned into the shocked prude, very depressing evidence that I was no long not only a teenager, but I was no longer hip!

Hair was a real issue for us. It had to be long and straight or short and cut funky.  Even the white girls ironed and straightened their hair, the standard being no waves, no curls, nothing. Since my hair was long and wavy there was no way I was going to be cool, so I wore mine in a bun with a cool crocheted bun cover on it, or I wore two braids.  I was obviously not in style hair wise. The style was the issue with females, but the length was the issue with males. This was the era of the Afro and some of my classmates sported some impressive almost shoulder to shoulder creations. The rules of the school, written before integration and with white boys in mind, said that you hair could not touch your collar. It did not say anything about length. That meant that the black boys could have ten inches of hair because it was going to stand up and not touch their collars, while the white boys would quickly be in violation of the policy with much less hair. To their credit most of the white boys did not hold it against the black boys, they simply violated the policy and complained if they got caught and eventually organized to get the rule slapped down.

Our principal Mr. Benner always struck me as a mythical creature. He rarely came out of his office and when he did he hugged the walls while walking down the hall like he was afraid all of the students were infected with something contagious. Mr. Marshall, the assistant principal was much more outgoing and friendly and accessible. I suspect he did not care about the hair length thing, or the dress length thing and I think Mr. Benner was so busy avoiding us he did not even engage with the discussions.

In the area of social mores, interracial dating was one of the primary ways some of my classmates bucked the system. For some reason this was mainly manifested with white girls and black boys. The girls would sneak into the East End to parties or go to the drive-in, ducking down in the seat until it was full dark so she would not be seen. There were a few white boy-black girl liaisons but they tended to be far fewer. I am not sure why, certainly white boys were attracted to black girls. In those days it was socially acceptable for males to let you know if you made their liver quiver so to speak and they certainly were not shy about expressing their admiration.

One of the characters that taught at XHS was Olive Houston, who at one time was also the Mayor of Xenia. Tall, thin, ghost white, wrinkled and wearing way too much make-up she taught classes like speech and deportment. She was famous for calling students out for public displays of affection. Do not let Ms. Houston catch you holding hands or even touching a member of the opposite sex or she would lope up ( later she had an injury and would limp up) and chastise you loudly.” Young lady, decent girls do not indulge in displays of public affection, it simply is not done!”  More than one student opined that someone needed to take one for the team and take the aging old maid to bed so she would quit trying to keep the boys and girls apart.I think part of the fun of the relationship was probably the sneaking. Again, it was going against the societal norms grain and that was our bread and butter at the time.

Mr Conrad, our Chemistry teacher made a habit of throwing beakers at students and telling them to catch, at the same time shouting how much the beaker cost if you failed to catch it. He also would throw chalk at you if you missed a question or failed to pay attention in class. Nothing like getting pegged with a piece of chalk because you were daydreaming! I am not sure he threw at girls, as I remember it was only boys who got hit. Gender discrimination. When I was in his class ( I was a lab aide in my senior year) we had an incident that required my father to visit the school, something parents did not do except under dire circumstances in those days. Mr. Conrad announced one day that we were having a pop quiz and that the reason we were having the pop quiz was that “one of your classmates” had asked him to help move a wooden bridge from the storage room downstairs to a truck so that it could be used as decoration for the prom and he had hurt his back during the process. Now my classmates knew I was the only person in the room on the Prom Decorating Committee, a fairly prestigious position, and that was me.

The young man behind me who I will call Hank, a large white boy, was not a good student. He was teetering between a C- and a D+ and being an athlete he had to have a C to continue to play football. “Can I push her down the stairs for that?” he asked the teacher. “Sure”, Mr. Conrad answered, no doubt presuming that Hank was kidding. He was not. I jumped out of the desk before he pushed it over and sent it crashing down the stairs. I was shaken up and went back to the class expecting some punishment for Hank. Instead Mr. Conrad, who was no doubt shaken up himself ( the noise had been impressive) told me it was my fault and instructed me to bring the desk back upstairs.  Shocked, I refused. He told me I had to. Instead I marched into the counselor’s office and told her I wanted to drop chemistry. Mrs. Haines ( I had been changed from the hateful Mrs. Hasty) was a calm , motherly white woman and she talked calmly to me and went to visit Mr. Conrad. I went home and told my father what had happened and assured him I was positive that if I had not jumped Hank would have truly pushed me down the stairs with the desk. My father did not take kindly to that and met with the principal and Mr. Conrad the next day. I received an apology from both Hank and Mr. Conrad.

Mr. Conrad was a good guy, we became good friends in my adult years and I am sure he was as amazed as anyone that Hank actually pushed the chair down the stairs.He liked to joke a lot but did not understand that some adolescents do not have good decision making capabilities.

Some of our teachers had the bad habit of getting romantically involved with students. When I was in school it was all male teacher/female student, this evolved ( or devolved) later to include female teacher/male students. Unlike today anyone 16 or older was considered to be able to give informed consent. I suppose there were laws on the books even then about statutory rape, but they must have been ignored, a music teacher, an English teacher and an administrator all dated and eventually married girls while the girls were still in high school. I do not remember any outrage, we kind of thought it was cute that those authority figures could be captured by one of our peers. Times were different.


Posted by on May 17, 2012 in Education, Xenia


8 responses to “Tales of Xenia: High school teachers worth remembering

  1. Scott Crain

    May 17, 2012 at 9:13 pm

    I’m just amused that Mr. Conrad was your Chemistry teacher in high school, and he was STILL teaching when your son (and I) took Chemistry a couple decades later.

    He was still just as notorious for his tests, as well as his interesting idiosyncracies (and stories).

    He did pass on in 2002 though, so I suppose today’s kids are safe from flying glassware and chalk.

    • minerva5

      May 17, 2012 at 9:59 pm

      There were several teachers still hanging on in your era! I imagine Mrs.Lightheiser was still teaching French and I know Mary Dickerson who taught me Algebra taught Mike Algebra. I did not like Mary when she taught me, but we became good friends when I became a teacher in the system. She and Mike loved each other on sight which amazed me. She terrified me when I was a kid!:-)

      • cortana

        May 17, 2012 at 10:03 pm

        I don’t think Mrs. Lightheiser was still around. If I remember right, Mrs. Olshevski taught both French AND German. Mary Dickerson was my algebra teacher too. Everyone was afraid of her, at least until you got to know her. Then she was just fine… she just had the aura of being really hard on people.

  2. Jeff Jones

    May 18, 2012 at 6:58 pm

    I remember Mr. Conrad (class of 67) I really enjoyed his class… I guess it was because I survived the missles thrown by him.. He tried, but never hit me. I think his comb-over must have blocked his sight. I believe I enjoyed the tough and strict teachers the most, because they are the one that stick in my mind… Remember Olive Houston on the PA system in the morning? Everyone shutup and listened to what she had to say..We better listen.. I was scared of Miss Dickerson. I never missed a day of class, but one afternoon I was feeling ill to my stomach. I sat up and ran to the restroom… She sent another student to check on me… She later asked sincerely ask me if I was ok. She honestly was concerned about me… She was strict, but a wonderful person… After that we silently were best buddies.
    Mrs Zambon was another of my favorites…..Remember having to fold the Earth Science projects exactly like she wanted. ?
    I had Mrs. Molinaro for one year of English… I thi she got married and quit teachinh… She to the whole class downtown to see “The Lord Of The Flies” movies.. I still remember it to this day… What a great movies that told about how us humans are uncivilized when it comes to surviving. Oh yes..Mr. MacPherson…He was great, He loved talking bout horse racing… I remember him sitting on his desk and falling on his butt…He was so tall and clumbsy.
    Not sure what grade it was, but there was a Miss Evans.Everyone said she was a lady wrestler… If you got in trouble she would give you her wooden paddle and you had to spank yourself… If it wasn’t hard enough you had to keep doing it.

    • minerva5

      May 18, 2012 at 7:08 pm

      Jan McPherson was a legend. I remember when Soapy Miller, one of our good basketball players got hurt he tried to get him to use horse linament on his injury.

  3. Jeff Jones

    May 18, 2012 at 7:28 pm

    minierva……. Jan had the longest legs I ever saw on a man……. I believe in lived on Church St. One of the homes that was destroyed in the tornado… There were two Mr. Whitakers…I had the one that taught Algebra… I hated algebra but he made it fun… He was such a slob… He always had his shirt tail hanging out (just like Mr. Conrad)

  4. Larry Landaker

    October 28, 2014 at 10:49 pm

    I liked Olive Houston. She liked the boys, hated the girls. One girl brought a little kitten she found into the classroom one afternoon and Miss Houston exploded, “Out! Out! This is not a menagerie!”
    I later had to look up the word, “menagerie” to know what she was talking about. Miss Houston gave me me the job of public address announcer. Every day I read a prayer laid out dutifully by Mr. McNeal, along with all the class announcements. My voice spoke each day, twice a day, to 1600 students–a good sized audience in spite of each and every one of them being captive.

  5. Larry Landaker

    October 28, 2014 at 10:55 pm

    And it was Roy Whitaker and Jan McPherson who saved me in math. Both were odd ducks but both explained it to me in ways I understood–good humored both. Math teachers I actually liked. Rare.


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