“All kids are gifted. Some just open the package sooner.”
– Hilda Kendrick
What makes a great teacher? I cannot answer that because there is no answer. I know I spent time with one last week.
She assured me that she could tell in her kindergarten class which students would excel academically and be high achievers in life? I am not taken back very often but her answer was one I did not expect. It also showed me how out of the box she was as an outstanding teacher.
She told me she would tell a joke or say something humorous. It went over the heads and understanding of the average kindergartener. But one or two kids got it. They laughed out loud.
If you think you understand the teaching profession, talk to Hilda Kendrick. She is an expert. She understands it. She gets it. She is an amazing teacher. The kind that dedicates every moment she can to being a better teacher.
We discussed her cultural heritage. She was a teacher when there were very few African Americans in the profession. There were “one or two in some schools and sometimes none” at the schools when she began her career.
I am going to spend the next two weeks doing an injustice to an amazing woman who has lived an extraordinary life. Two columns will never fully be adequate to thank Hilda Kendrick for the influence she has had on hundreds of young lives in our community.
If Hilda’s life is extraordinary, it is certainly in keeping with her lineage. Her father worked for years for American Standard. Her mother was a homemaker and both parents stressed education. Her late husband was a chemist. He was brilliant and had developed a product that was a cleaning solvent for firearms, but he passed away before he could fully protect and market his solution.
Her father’s mother was a schoolteacher. Imagine that- a black woman who taught school 3 generations ago. She had an uncle that was an attorney. All of which prompted me to ask her if intelligence was hereditary or a product of the environment. I guess I can surmise that after a lengthy discussion in a summation that we both agreed both could be major contributing factors.
At this point I must relay a story about Hilda’s brother Johnny Kendrick. I went to school with Johnny at Wilson Junior High School in 1967-68. Hilda’s brother Johnny was the first African American with whom I ever attended school. Johnny was smart, articulate, a great friend with a good sense of humor, and for the most part none of us even thought of Johnny as different. Not everyone who changed race relations in this country did so by marching or protesting. Many did so by simply being the best they could be every single day.
Hilda and I discussed the differences between the starting days of teaching and today’s classroom environment, her thoughts and mine coincide quite a bit.
“Teachers make a difference”. I know absolutely and positively how many teachers greatly influenced me.
Hilda told me that a great difference between her early days and the current times mostly revolve around parents. Her main point involved discipline. “You used to be able to discipline their kids. Now they want to be their friends.” Hilda thinks discipline is a very necessary ingredient to the learning quotient.
“If you have self-control, you are a better student.” Self-discipline and self-control are essential to leaning. Advanced learning according to Hilda directly correlates to the amount of reading a student does early on in their academic endeavor. She strongly notes the importance of books, “The kids (in kindergarten) reading on a 4th or 5th grade level are constantly reading.”
Hilda told me a story about one of her kindergarten students. She had recommended he take a test that basically determined which academic tack they would take in their education. She remembers the young man cried, “It’s too hard!” She demanded excellence from him as she knew his potential. Hilda Kendrick never accepted less from her students than she knew they could achieve. She demanded the young man pursue the academic path.
The same young man recently approached her. He had in tow a report card from his youngest school days from a certain teacher. Typed in the comment section was a simple refrain,” You will attend an Ivy league college.” He was in kindergarten at the time.
His name is Nishant Uppal. More accurately, his name is Doctor Nishant Uppal. He very recently graduated from Harvard Medical School.
Lindon Dodd is a freelance writer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Writer’s note-Part 2 next week of Hilda’s story fighting for kids in Washington, D.C. and how she spent her summers.