Remembering a Special Teacher

by J-Mirabelli

"Teaching kids to count is fine, but teaching them what counts is best. " Bob Talbert

Wilbur Conover was a grade six teacher who left his mark. So much so, that on the weekend of October 1st, 2011 more than a dozen of his former students gathered to celebrate their teacher, fifty two years later. Mr. Conover, however, wasn’t there. He was 58 years old when he started teaching, and has been dead for years.

The occasion was a class reunion of students from the Queen Anne Place Elementary School, which was a collection of pink stucco bungalows when they left it behind in 1959. Almost half the 36 students from the class attended, from as far away as Japan.

They are an eclectic group. About half of the students in the class were Jewish, three of whom were children of Holocaust survivors. There were two black girls, one boy from Mexico, refugees from Hungary and Sweden and a Japanese American who’s mother had spent time in an internment camp. There were working-class children from nearby apartments and rich kids from mansions.

They were a microcosm of the developing United States, spending weekends and summers in each others back yards and their parents all knew each other. They credit that for their closeness, and their success. But they also credit Mr. Conover.

“He wasn’t our friend,” one student said. “He made us march in military order.”

So what made Mr. Conover so special? He came in early to school each day and gave them lessons on his marimba. He taught them about the Aztecs and the Maya at a time when textbooks made Indians look like savages. He helped them learn tolerance by supporting others’ accomplishments. He was also a strict disciplinarian.

“He let us discover our individual strengths,” someone said. “He just wanted to make you better.”

These alumni wanted to provide a gift to their school. The School Principal’s request was simple, “Come back to our Career Day and introduce these children to the joy of possibilities.”

Mr. Conover had taught them understanding, tolerance, discipline and critical thinking. They learned from him that their differences made them stronger and more accepting of the changing world around them. These are the most valuable lessons that they will pass on to all upcoming generations. For Mr. Conover, a grade six teacher, this is an incredible legacy. The lessons he taught, live on.

When asked what message they will leave with this new generation of students, it would be the same message that Mr. Conover gave them, “Have some dreams. Do them.”

Read more:

Remembering a special teacher | LA Times

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