His name was Mr. Knol – “Whitey” to his friends – and he was my sixth-grade teacher at Southside Elementary School, near Harrisburg, in the mid-1960s. My first male teacher.
Southside was a smallish neighborhood school located adjacent to the development where I lived. It had just one sixth-grade classroom, so all of my classmates lived within walking distance of the school. We knew each other well, very well.
We knew Harold carried a photo in his wallet clipped from Playboy magazine and Jim had what would today be called a learning disability. Mindy, Richard and Danny were the wealthy kids who lived in the exclusive development down the road and Geanne was the oldest of seven girls in her family. Nancy and Theresa were already dealing with acne. Greg’s father had recently passed away. Kathy could run faster than all of the boys and Georgia wanted to beat me up. Fortunately, I could run faster than Georgia.
We entered puberty in a school where little kids shared our cafetorium and playground. We were playing hopscotch, kickball and jumping rope (in skirts!) at the same time we had crushes on Davy Jones, Peter Noone, Paul McCartney and Dino, Desi and Billy.
Mr. Knol helped us maneuver with understanding and humor.
“As I walked out in the streets of Laredo…” he sang, walking around the classroom strumming a pointer.
“Your vocabulary word is ‘message.’ I’d say the ‘mess age’ is from birth to about 3,” he said during a weekly spelling test.
He taught us about the world during the Vietnam Era through Weekly Reader and current events presentations. When there was a conflict – boys vs. girls, of course – he lined us up on either side of the classroom and made us talk it out. With a joke, a laugh and a song, he encouraged us to treat each other with respect at a time when familiarity, hormones … and photos from Playboy magazine … were pulling us in another direction.
Mr. Knol knew us just as well as we knew each other. Sixth grade. It was a very good year.
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—Bonnie Martin, Editor