4 responses to “Schooling the Teacher”

  1. Dan Gleason

    This was a really intriguing piece by someone who made a difference in these young students’ lives. I’m the Workshop classmate of Dick Cummins, the “kid” from Centerville, and I am really proud of him for what he did for those student athletes. Had he not been so dedicated and resourceful, we likely would have never heard of people like Rich Upchurch. I imagine all those young men that Dick worked with have had fulfilling lives that they never would have had they not enrolled in that little community college in Centerville, Iowa. As for Lyle Hellyer, he is a legend in those parts, having built that college into what became Indian Hills Community College, now with upwards of 5,000 students on two campuses, and whose baseball and basketball teams have been national powerhouses for decades.

  2. dick cummins

    This piece started as a much smaller post in response to Ross’s post (and Sandra Cisneros book forward comments) about their teaching experiences with an MFA from the workshop. Then over time, the story ‘just growed’ like Topsey. The best thing to come out of the effort was my reconnecting with Lyle Hellyer, retired president of that little junior college that started in Centerville and has now grown substantially under his leadership.

    Remembering how disappointed Lyle was with me when I bolted Indian Hills for that warmer teaching job in Key West, my fear was that he might still hold that betrayal against me after all these years. Turned out to be totally unfounded, of course.

    I just received this e-mail from Lyle after sending him a link — so he could see his name in lights!

    “Dick: Exceptionally well done, my friend. I got teary eyed thinking about those days of hardship, happiness, challenges [every day] and the successes you pointed out.

    You will be happy to know that there is a grown up version of what is now Indian Hills College, with a Campus still at Centerville but the major Campus at Ottumwa. The enrollment at Centerville is 500 plus and serves the people in that part of the district who wouldn’t have the opportunity with out it.

    They have baseball as their only NJCAA sport. The Ottumwa Complex is a beautiful Campus on 126 acres of hills, oaks and lakes and it was purchased from the Sisters of Humility of Mary who operated Ottumwa Heights College there for many years. When I moved over to Ottumwa campus as President it’s emphasis was Vocational-Technical and then I set out to make it comprehensive…

    I will shorten the story – there is now a campus of seven new multi-million dollar buildings, described as ‘the most beautiful campus in the Midwest’. As for athletics, we still excel, winning back to back to back National Championships in basketball, three National Championships in Golf, the only Northern College ever to do so, and have had runner up national finishes in Volleyball.

    We’ve been named in the top 10% Colleges academically in the US for the past 15 years with an enrollment of over 5000 students daily… I will stop there.

    You were at the Centerville campus right after ‘the new beginning’ and Dan Gleason was my right hand guy in the start up of football. He accompanied me to Iowa State where we paid $500 for all of their used equipment to start our first football season – and I am proud to say Dan and I are still close.

    I am proud of you and your accomplishments Dick, and I am happy that maybe I gave you a boost toward becoming an educator.

    Keep in touch and Best Always, Lyle”

    Well if there isn’t a bust and plaque dedicated to Lyle Hellyer on both college campuses in these small Iowa towns – there damn well should be. dc

  3. Melody Murray

    Fun stuff, Dick! Well, minus the racism and the shooting…and of course the crippling failure of our nation’s education systems… Ok, so maybe not so fun, but I like that you took something that usually depresses us and made it a fun read. The horror of your students’ illiteracy is swiftly buoyed by their successes and mostly happy endings.I feel like I’ve always known how to read. According to my folks, I taught myself when I was two and haven’t stopped since, so the second part of this reads like a horror story to me. But having been a teacher’s aide in a chemistry class in West Philly and teaching adult literacy in north Philly I can relate.

  4. dick cummins

    Mel: — I have mentioned before that I had ‘lefty’ problems learning to read. Held back in second grade – Counselor: “You son talks like a adult but can’t seem to read a lick – or add and subtract either!”

    Letters/numbers were impressionistic works of Matisse and Monet – swam around and my natural directionality was right to left not left to right along sentences. Sometimes I still run the mouse across print when having trouble concentrating – trying to read on line – helps make my eyes follow mouse motion left/right along the words.

    Things got better with my ‘graphics chip problem’ and I did okay in school – always in ‘college bound’ classes (due to test scores and large vocab I guess) and in the end had no idea that kids could get through high school without learning to read.

    Low and behold.

    My experience at Indian Hills was instructive – instructive about adjusting expectations in the face of life’s realities, about remaining flexible and tolerant – drop the elitist superiority – the bloated arrogance I often see that comes with advanced degrees.

    After all I had my own early reading and ciphering problems too.

    Did I lower my standards at IHCC? ‘It was all relative and tantamount.’ Give me context.

    With those student/athletes I had one set of expectations on the football field and another for their literacy instruction.

    Just ‘Ride it like ya find it, get your ticket at the station on the Rock Island Line, she’s a mighty fine line.”

    Grade yourself and others ‘on the honest curve’ – from where you start upward — when grade you must – as we all do. dc

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