My grandmother’s nephew, Ed Patterson taught English in a Chicago public high school for 30 years. Ed earned a B.A. and an M.A. from Washington University in St. Louis just as World War II started. He entered the Navy in 1942 and served for three years as a gunnery officer on a battleship in the Pacific Theater.
When the war ended, he married Nancy, his college sweetheart, moved to Oak Park, and got a job teaching at a high school on the North Side of Chicago. He and Nancy would come often to our home for Sunday dinner, and he would tell us interesting stories about his job.
During one of these visits, I asked Ed how he not only maintained order in his classroom, but also how he made certain that his students succeeded in his classes. Ed told us he never laid a hand on a student, but instead he used a method that worked well over the years.
He said that a few days before classes began in the fall, he would go to a dime store and buy a few boxes of plain white stationery. When a student was not completing assignments, was performing below academic standards or was acting like a clown in class, Ed would send a letter — minus the school address on the envelope — to the student’s parents outlining the problem.
He related one incident involving a student named Joe: On a Friday afternoon after classes had been dismissed, a rather harried lady came to Ed’s classroom. She said she worked hard all week, and when she came home and saw the plain white envelope, she was certain it was an invitation to a wedding.
When she read the contents of the letter and realized Joe had been acting as the class clown, she informed Ed that in the future, Joe would be on his best behavior. This turned out to be true.
Many times Ed would overhear students asking each other if their parents had received one of his letters, and he would ask the students if they felt guilty about something.
Ed would ask a student whose parents had been contacted how his/her parents were doing, and the student would almost always say that everything was fine at home and in his/her life.
He knew of teachers who used corporal punishment on students, but he said this method of correction only added to a student’s resentment of the teacher and the resentment could carry over to the student’s life outside of school.
A number of years later, he was named chairperson of the English Department at the high school where he taught.
Ed said he instructed all teachers in his department not to use corporal punishment and not to touch students at all. Instead he encouraged the teachers to use his method or one that would put them in good stead with administrators, parents and students.
He believed that each principal under whom he served liked his method, parents appreciated it, and even students accepted Ed’s plan.
I believed in Ed’s method, too, and used his plan during the many years that I taught.