Remembering What I’ve Learned: a Tribute to My Teachers

David Crowley and the yellow rose of TexasIt’s been five days since I heard the news that led to this blog. I have had five days of reflection, tears shed, unanswered questions and conversations I never dreamed I would have. Let’s start at the beginning – the only place a story like this starts.

At no surprise to you, my readers, I was a rowdy kid. Today, they’d call it ADD. Back in the 80s, it was “hyperactive.” My mind moved faster than my teachers could accommodate and as a result, I got in trouble. I wasn’t a discipline problem, mind you. Rather, a smart kid with a photographic memory and a brain that moved faster than Speedy Gonzalez on meth. In 7th grade, I found myself plopped into Mr. Crowley’s Texas History class. Every 7th grader in Aldine Independent School District took Texas History in 7th grade, so its appearance on my schedule was no surprise. It didn’t mean I had to like it, though.

I spent a fair amount of time passing notes with James Nowak (I think) and subsequently getting the requisite, “ERIKA!” belted out from Mr. Crowley during the first few weeks. I read the textbook at breakneck speed and spent my class time doodling on my book cover.

But one day, Mr. Crowley got my attention – and it all started with the flower you see above.

We’ve all heard the song The Yellow Rose of Texas. He knew we had as well. But Mr Crowley – that slick sonofabitch – knew how to get a 7th grader’s attention. He asked us if we knew what the song was about. Naturally, we didn’t. So he told us: the “yellow rose of Texas” refers to one Miss Emily West, a mulatto woman who seduced Santa Ana during the Texas Revolution.

Kinky. Dirty. And as 7th graders, we’d never really heard something so scandalous put in the context of history. We liked it.

Mr. Crowley, having gained my attention, got me interested in history. That year, I competed in the History Fair and went all the way to State with my solo performance as Quanah Parker. Yeah, Quanah was a dude, but Mr. Crowley never said otherwise. Rather, he even lent me this really cool Indian headdress from his personal collection (along with a hot as hell leather shirt and war axe) to wear during my performances. His support earned me many ribbons and medals.

He’s one of those teachers who took an interest in me. His passion for something so seemingly obscure as Texas History gave me a home when my home life wasn’t…normal. Divorced parents doing the best they could and lots of time alone led me to seek solace in academics. Today, it’s evident that my parents gave me the best gift ever: no slack for grades and a broken home.

I’ll never forget how it felt to win. And Mr. Crowley was always right there, in his short sleeve button-down plaid shirts, weird ties and brown pants. He made history come to life and planted the seed for years of History competitions and a pile of ribbons and medals that now rest somewhere in my mother’s attic.

Last Friday, I received a message from my long-time friend Cara, asking me if I’d heard about Mr. Crowley. No, I had not – do tell.

On Friday, January 16, 2004, Mr. Crowley died.

My day suddenly became about everything but me. Rather, it became about why I am me and how I got here.

I’ve spent hours over the past couple of days on my sofa, surrounded by yearbooks and photo albums, remembering the events, people and teachers who contributed to the legacy that’s become me. While it’s impossible for me to remember Mr. Crowley as anyone but a boisterous, fun-loving and tireless soul, I can tell you what I’ve learned that I’ve learned from teachers like him who have graced my life:

  • The work day doesn’t end when everyone else goes home. Teachers like Mr. Crowley stayed after school. They spent their weekends traveling on shitty school buses with green vinyl seats at 6:30 in the morning to take their students to do something pretty cool: have the opportunity to excel. The extra hours we put in throughout our lives make a difference, and I’m overwhelmingly thankful for the teachers who put their hours into my life.
  • You may never use this information, but learn it anyway. I swore I’d never use Texas History. Calculus? Oh, suck it. My teachers spent their lives committed to passing on information and I can only imaging how many times they’ve heard, “I’m never gonna use this stuff!” I’m here to tell you – you’re wrong and your teachers are right. I own my own business, I do my own bookkeeping. The anecdotes from every history and science class of my youth add flavor and texture to my writing. I had to learn proper grammar and usage in order to know when and how to break the rules. I use everything.
  • Everyone has an impact. I met David Thomas Crowley on my first day of 7th grade over 23 years ago. There’s not a year that goes by that I don’t smirk to myself about the Yellow Rose of Texas. From Mrs. Hammer who drove her daughter, Tiffany, and me to and from volleyball practice to Mrs. Sheldon who crapped a kitten when I pulled some day-saving quote about politics and political parties out of my backside at State Mock Congressional Hearing … the teachers in my life gave me something to believe in on account of their steadfast belief in me.
  • Everyone is a teacher. While we may not be victims of the crappy pay and perpetually lippy student body, we all teach the people in our lives something. What have I done today that’s made an impact? A question we should ask ourselves more often, I think. From parents and children to third grade teachers and their students to bosses and employees. Professional writers and their readers. We all leave something behind with every action and every word. Life’s a pond of delight – toss your pebbles and share the ripple effect.

Mr. Crowley’s obituary stated:

He was a teacher at Aldine Independent School District for the past 24 years and a recipient of many awards.

Using those math skills I swore I’d never use, I figure:

5 classes a day X 25 students per class = 125 students per year X 24 years.

That’s 3000 lives Mr. Crowley touched. And probably even more snickers about the Yellow Rose of Texas. Mr. Crowley taught my brother and my younger sister and many more siblings over the years. I wish I had the chance to tell him what I’m writing today – how much I thought of him. The regard in which I held and still hold him. I regret that it took hearing about a tragedy five years after the fact for me to sit down and thank those who have made my life better and shaped the person I’ve become.

If anyone reading this remembers Mr. Crowley and 7th grade Texas History, leave a comment below. As well – how have your teachers impacted your lives and the lives of those you love? Say it now, say it here. Don’t wait 23 years like I did.

Some parting notes for my teachers:

Mrs. Collier (Junior High and High School Theatre Arts teacher)
Thank you for teaching me the value of showing your ass. It led to a college degree in Theatre, a passion for technical theatre and a career as a working actor and voiceover artist. I recite “Goldie” by Roald Dahl and “Yertle the Turtle” in my sleep and still have a passion for the importance of  a sound argument  learned through those years of LD Debate and extemporaneous speaking.

Mrs. Brinkley (High School algebra teacher)
I still hate math but understand why I had to learn it. And your statement that, “Profanity is the feeble mind’s way of expressing itself.” Yes, let’s cover that. Sixteen years of English (college included) gave me the mettle to understand when it’s OK to break the rules. I’m well-paid to swear – people hire me because of it. It suits me. Fuckin’ A.

Mr. Stanford (High School history/political science teacher)
You made me laugh and love learning. I was also sitting in your class the morning Stevie Ray Vaughan died – fall of my Senior year. Your passion for politics lit a fire under my ass – thanks for teaching me to recognize the best kind of “burning sensation.” I felt it again when I decided to write full-time. Burn, baby…burn.

Drew Hoovler
Professor Jonathan Middents
Professor Claire Marie Verheyen
Professor Mark Olsen
(University of Houston Theatre Department)
You shaped my passion and gave me no slack for not showing up for class, for shop or for rehearsal. It’s because of you that I still have a passion for fencing, think weapons play in movies is sick,  own more power tools than the men in my life and can build a corset out of a bolt of muslin and a roll of boning. Oh, and I can hem a mean curtain, too.

Professor Robert Zaretsky (University of Houston Honors College)
I’ll never forget your passion for French culture and the admiration you expressed for their ability to enjoy a glass of wine and a cigarette without stigma. Your classes prompted the most intriguing discussions and I appreciated your advisory skills on my Senior Honors Thesis. “Mating Rituals of the Wild Redneck (and other Southern phenomena)” still haunts me, but it’s one of the pieces that help me find my voice – the voice that keeps me employed and in-demand as a writer today.

David Crowley – you’re missed. I can only hope his family understands that there’s a legion of students who remember him as a bright point in their 7th grade year. There are also may more than me, I’m sure, who remember him many years after the fact. Twenty-three years. And counting.

43 comments
Kkelch2007
Kkelch2007

What a great tribute to Mr. Crowley, and rightly so. His passion for Texas History was contagious. I can remember his uniforms and other memorabilia he brought to class in his trunk and how eager he was to share them. The entire class looked forward to the days we got to "adorn" them. Funny how a hands on approach like that can initiate a lifelong interest. Great article.  

The Redhead
The Redhead

Randa, I agree. He was amazing. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about Mr. Crowley as well.

Randa
Randa

My sister Tami had him, her 7th grade year, at Teague. I didn't have him til Nimitz Govt class, but I knew him from Teague. He was one of my favorite teachers. I can't imagine him being gone. I hope they found the "excuse my language" ASSHOLE, that took a BRIGHT LIGHT from US, and I hope his family knows what an AMAZING, KIND, GENTLE SOUL he was.

Steff
Steff

You so touched my heart with your words about the greatest teacher I knew. He made everything he taught come alive. I was fortunate enough to have him in 7th grade and again in the 11th grade. You brought tears to my eyes with your words about this man. I am a teacher now and I pray that I touch the lives of my kids each day as he did us. He gave me big shoes to fill!

The Redhead
The Redhead

Sarah and Carol - thanks for stopping by and no thanks are due to me. Mr. Crowley deserves all of the thanks. I'm honored that you feel I've contributed and done right by him.

The Redhead
The Redhead

Sarah and Carol - thanks for stopping by and no thanks are due to me. Mr. Crowley deserves all of the thanks. I'm honored that you feel I've contributed and done right by him.

Sarah Sandiford
Sarah Sandiford

You may never know how much your blog will mean to the three young sons Mr. Crowley left behind. They did not get to be in his class. Thank you!

Carol
Carol

Erika,My brother passed this on to me today. I am David's sister. Thank you for your kind words and I'll be sure to pass them along to his sons, the oldest being almost 16 now. They won't have many memories of him, so epithats like this mean quite alot. For his funeral, his long time friend sent a huge spray of yellow roses. I saved a few of them but only a hint of yellow still remains. That flower and the history behind it will always remind me of David.

Sid
Sid

Thanks for all the kind words about David, he was my younger brother. A small correction is in order. He did not take his own life but was struck and killed by a hit and run driver.

Sid
Sid

Thanks for all the kind words about David, he was my younger brother. A small correction is in order. He did not take his own life but was struck and killed by a hit and run driver.

Beth Partin
Beth Partin

Thanks for the reminder to be grateful and, most important, express our gratitude to the people who need to hear it. I learned something from you today...about the song and other things...thank you.

Beth Partin
Beth Partin

Thanks for the reminder to be grateful and, most important, express our gratitude to the people who need to hear it. I learned something from you today...about the song and other things...thank you.

M. R.Hammer
M. R.Hammer

I remember Mr. Crowley!!! Odd character but alot of fun. Risa named my Mother :) She isn't a Mrs. Hammer anymore she is Dr. Hammer! Mom still works for me though haha. Take care everyone!

M. R.Hammer
M. R.Hammer

I remember Mr. Crowley!!! Odd character but alot of fun. Risa named my Mother :) She isn't a Mrs. Hammer anymore she is Dr. Hammer! Mom still works for me though haha. Take care everyone!

Risa
Risa

Mr. Crowley, Mrs. Hammer, Mrs. Richter, Mr. Garcia, Mr. Brown, Sra. Cataldo... I could go on and on. Kudos to all the teachers out there who do what they do because they love it not because it's a paycheck.

Risa
Risa

Mr. Crowley, Mrs. Hammer, Mrs. Richter, Mr. Garcia, Mr. Brown, Sra. Cataldo... I could go on and on. Kudos to all the teachers out there who do what they do because they love it not because it's a paycheck.

Jackie Collier
Jackie Collier

Not many people were aware (because David was really quite shy and humble) but he won Disney's National Teacher of the Year...deservedly so. He was a tremendous friend and co-worker.

Jackie Collier
Jackie Collier

Not many people were aware (because David was really quite shy and humble) but he won Disney's National Teacher of the Year...deservedly so. He was a tremendous friend and co-worker.

Lisa
Lisa

Ah, 7th grade Texas History with Mr. Crowley. The beginning of a long and illustrious involvement with History Fair. That year, the Battle of San Jacinto. Later, Urban Homelessness, Roy Hofheinz, and Sputnik. Many Saturdays spent at the Downtown Branch of the Houston Public Library with Julie, Demery, and Kim. The immediate results - expanded horizons, a greater breadth of knowledge, and bonding that helped forge lifelong friendships. The lasting effects - a love of learning, the courage to try, and the wherewithal to leave corporate life and become a teacher myself. I can tell you from my own experiences that teaching is the most difficult challenge I have ever faced. We were blessed to have had such dedicated and enthusiastic teachers. I can only hope that we gave them some moments that made them feel their sacrifices were worth it. Erika, thank you for reminding me how grateful I am to our teachers for the opportunities they gave to us. Thank you also for reminding me that I have a responsibility now to do the same for my students.

Lisa
Lisa

Ah, 7th grade Texas History with Mr. Crowley. The beginning of a long and illustrious involvement with History Fair. That year, the Battle of San Jacinto. Later, Urban Homelessness, Roy Hofheinz, and Sputnik. Many Saturdays spent at the Downtown Branch of the Houston Public Library with Julie, Demery, and Kim. The immediate results - expanded horizons, a greater breadth of knowledge, and bonding that helped forge lifelong friendships. The lasting effects - a love of learning, the courage to try, and the wherewithal to leave corporate life and become a teacher myself. I can tell you from my own experiences that teaching is the most difficult challenge I have ever faced. We were blessed to have had such dedicated and enthusiastic teachers. I can only hope that we gave them some moments that made them feel their sacrifices were worth it. Erika, thank you for reminding me how grateful I am to our teachers for the opportunities they gave to us. Thank you also for reminding me that I have a responsibility now to do the same for my students.

The Redhead
The Redhead

It really humbles me to see all of you who not only remember Mr. Crowley but loved him...and the other favorite teachers you mention. Thanks for stopping by, for sharing your memories and for sharing this blog. I know many have sent it along to teachers in their lives.

The Redhead
The Redhead

It really humbles me to see all of you who not only remember Mr. Crowley but loved him...and the other favorite teachers you mention. Thanks for stopping by, for sharing your memories and for sharing this blog. I know many have sent it along to teachers in their lives.

Tiffany
Tiffany

Mr. Crowley was definitely a quirky character, but one that you came to love and respect. It saddens me to think that he never fully understood the breadth of his impact. He taught me as well as my older siblings. So when I had his class each had a story to tell me about it. Even my brother, who hated school and anything school related, told a story with a smile on his face. Thanks for being yourself and sharing that with me.

Tiffany
Tiffany

Mr. Crowley was definitely a quirky character, but one that you came to love and respect. It saddens me to think that he never fully understood the breadth of his impact. He taught me as well as my older siblings. So when I had his class each had a story to tell me about it. Even my brother, who hated school and anything school related, told a story with a smile on his face. Thanks for being yourself and sharing that with me.

Bianca
Bianca

Kirstin Lynch-Walsh was my theater teacher in my high school for the arts for my freshman and junior year, and has forever inspired me to be a better person. Barely clocking in at 4'11, this little blonde lady packed more power in her words than anyone I know. Warm, sweet, inspiring and funny-- Kirstin was the first one to be at school early and always the last to leave, running extra curricular activities for and by the students. She believed in us the way we should always believe in ourselves, and reminded us that on both our best and worst days. High school can be a jungle in every imaginable aspect, and Kirstin couldn't have been a better guide in helping us remember what's important. I don't think she has ever given birth, but believe me when I say she has many, many children.

Bianca
Bianca

Kirstin Lynch-Walsh was my theater teacher in my high school for the arts for my freshman and junior year, and has forever inspired me to be a better person. Barely clocking in at 4'11, this little blonde lady packed more power in her words than anyone I know. Warm, sweet, inspiring and funny-- Kirstin was the first one to be at school early and always the last to leave, running extra curricular activities for and by the students. She believed in us the way we should always believe in ourselves, and reminded us that on both our best and worst days. High school can be a jungle in every imaginable aspect, and Kirstin couldn't have been a better guide in helping us remember what's important. I don't think she has ever given birth, but believe me when I say she has many, many children.

Laurel
Laurel

What a wonderful tribute! I loved Mr. Crowley. I hope that my children have a teacher just like him. He made history interesting and made me actually enjoy a subject I hated. Because of him I can teach my daughter all about the great state of Texas even though she is growing up in Georgia (where they don't have a class called Georgia History). And yes "The Yellow Rose of Texas" is part of that!

Laurel
Laurel

What a wonderful tribute! I loved Mr. Crowley. I hope that my children have a teacher just like him. He made history interesting and made me actually enjoy a subject I hated. Because of him I can teach my daughter all about the great state of Texas even though she is growing up in Georgia (where they don't have a class called Georgia History). And yes "The Yellow Rose of Texas" is part of that!

Kath
Kath

Simply beautiful, Erika!

Kath
Kath

Simply beautiful, Erika!

Darren
Darren

Beautiful. My wife is a mathematician who could teach at any level, high school or University, but chooses to teach 8th graders...because that is when kids,especially young women, decide if they are smart or stupid in math. Sounds like Mr. Crowley had a calling, a vocation, not a job. Let us all take a page from his book and make sure we're doing the same. Erika, your teachers would all be proud of you.

Darren
Darren

Beautiful. My wife is a mathematician who could teach at any level, high school or University, but chooses to teach 8th graders...because that is when kids,especially young women, decide if they are smart or stupid in math. Sounds like Mr. Crowley had a calling, a vocation, not a job. Let us all take a page from his book and make sure we're doing the same. Erika, your teachers would all be proud of you.

Brent Conner
Brent Conner

To Mr. Crowley, I owe my zeal for history to your and your classes. I did not really care about our past, our heritage at all until your class. You added life to the past, we had to know these people and understand them. I can only hope my children will be as lucky as me and have such a wonderful and insightful History teacher. There is a story in Texas History about our Independence and how two soldiers were released by Mexican Forces due to a black bean. My ancsetors drew one of those beans. If I had not listened in class, I would not know how cool history could be, so Thank You.

Brent Conner
Brent Conner

To Mr. Crowley, I owe my zeal for history to your and your classes. I did not really care about our past, our heritage at all until your class. You added life to the past, we had to know these people and understand them. I can only hope my children will be as lucky as me and have such a wonderful and insightful History teacher. There is a story in Texas History about our Independence and how two soldiers were released by Mexican Forces due to a black bean. My ancsetors drew one of those beans. If I had not listened in class, I would not know how cool history could be, so Thank You.

Michelle Burgess
Michelle Burgess

Although I absolutely hated Calculus, I will never forget Mr. Brown. When we were seniors, if you had over an 80 in a class, you didn't have to take the final. Well, I had about a 78 in the class. I was having some pretty big medical issues the last half of my senior year. The doctor wanted to perform surgery at the end of May, but I convinced him to wait until after prom and graduation. The only class I had below an 80 in was Calculus. I went to Mr. Brown and explained what was going on and if there was any extra credit I could do to make up some points so I wouldn't have to take any finals and the doctors could go ahead with the surgery. He said don't worry about it and when I got my report card, I got an 80 in the class. Thanks Mr. Brown. You made a difference to me. Mr. McClenny (?) also had a huge impact. He instilled a love of chemistry in me. It was always amazing to watch "The Human Calculator" perform multi digit multiplication problems quicker than we could on our calculators. He was a big guy, stank pretty bad (darn those allergies to ingredients in deodorants), but he was a great teacher. Mr. Kessler was great too. Had him for a few different science classes. One of the funnest memories is having him encourage us to paint Jimmy Jordan's fingernails while he was asleep in class. He also imparted obscure information to us - borborygamy and hanging chads (before that election when chads were all the news stations could talk about). We definitely had some great teachers at Teague and Nimitz. I will be forever grateful for the things I learned from them.

Michelle Burgess
Michelle Burgess

Although I absolutely hated Calculus, I will never forget Mr. Brown. When we were seniors, if you had over an 80 in a class, you didn't have to take the final. Well, I had about a 78 in the class. I was having some pretty big medical issues the last half of my senior year. The doctor wanted to perform surgery at the end of May, but I convinced him to wait until after prom and graduation. The only class I had below an 80 in was Calculus. I went to Mr. Brown and explained what was going on and if there was any extra credit I could do to make up some points so I wouldn't have to take any finals and the doctors could go ahead with the surgery. He said don't worry about it and when I got my report card, I got an 80 in the class. Thanks Mr. Brown. You made a difference to me. Mr. McClenny (?) also had a huge impact. He instilled a love of chemistry in me. It was always amazing to watch "The Human Calculator" perform multi digit multiplication problems quicker than we could on our calculators. He was a big guy, stank pretty bad (darn those allergies to ingredients in deodorants), but he was a great teacher. Mr. Kessler was great too. Had him for a few different science classes. One of the funnest memories is having him encourage us to paint Jimmy Jordan's fingernails while he was asleep in class. He also imparted obscure information to us - borborygamy and hanging chads (before that election when chads were all the news stations could talk about). We definitely had some great teachers at Teague and Nimitz. I will be forever grateful for the things I learned from them.

Cara (@cara19)
Cara (@cara19)

Dear Mr. Crowley. If it wasn't for him, I can't say that my interest in the off the wall details of history would have ever developed the way it did. I learned from him that history was personal and tragic and funny and human. And I'm now the proud owner of an Art History degree. ;-) I'm a fan of that Mr. Stanford also. Another one that could demonstrate the best way to learn was by making it personal. I always loved that he was in favor of us coming to our own conclusions and having an opinion, rather than taking the textbook's word for it. (Sadly, that's not always the case.) Thanks, Erika for digging deep and sharing. Love & light to you and those fabulous teachers that helped get us where we are today.

Cara (@cara19)
Cara (@cara19)

Dear Mr. Crowley. If it wasn't for him, I can't say that my interest in the off the wall details of history would have ever developed the way it did. I learned from him that history was personal and tragic and funny and human. And I'm now the proud owner of an Art History degree. ;-) I'm a fan of that Mr. Stanford also. Another one that could demonstrate the best way to learn was by making it personal. I always loved that he was in favor of us coming to our own conclusions and having an opinion, rather than taking the textbook's word for it. (Sadly, that's not always the case.) Thanks, Erika for digging deep and sharing. Love & light to you and those fabulous teachers that helped get us where we are today.

john mullis
john mullis

well said, Erika. well said. as a teacher of children for the last 18 years, i really appreciate your thoughtfulness and understanding of the role teachers play in our society. RIP, Mr Crowley.

john mullis
john mullis

well said, Erika. well said. as a teacher of children for the last 18 years, i really appreciate your thoughtfulness and understanding of the role teachers play in our society. RIP, Mr Crowley.

Trackbacks

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Paul-Baptiste and Micheal. Micheal said: Very beautiful tribute RT @RedheadWriting Heartbreaking work…Learning What I've Learned (new blog at RedheadWriting) http://bit.ly/8wA8h […]

  2. […] of my brain’s stutters. Welcome to my brain and all that is (as I recently described) themental equivalent of Speedy Gonzales on meth. I find it staggering that I can drone on about not being able to write. Sickly ironic. I also […]

  3. […] pass our way again. I spoke about it previously in a post about one of my junior high teachers, Mr. Crowley. I’ve taken a lot of time lately to consider who influences me and that I don’t get a […]