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Bernhardt column: Drinking milkshakes and watching color TV

I have a soft spot in my heart for teachers. I always have.
Thatís why I grimace when I hear the news of their latest battle for relevance in the state budget talks. Once again, theyíve had to journey to Raleigh to remind legislators that a strong educational foundation matters.
I could get political here. Instead, Iíll tell you the story of one educator who mattered to me.
His name is Carmel Wellmon, and though I havenít seen him since my high school days, Iím told he still resides here in Rowan County.
Mr. Wellmon had the daunting task of attempting to transfer some of his knowledge of earth science into the minds of eighth graders at Charles C. Erwin Junior High School in the late 1960s when I was a student.
It was no easy chore.
We were too preoccupied with rumors of the breakup of the Beatles, Joe Namath and the New York Jets, and early teenage mischief in general to care much about earth science.
ěMaster Bernhardt, I know weíd all rather be at home drinking milkshakes and watching color TV, but this blackboard requires your full attention at this time.î
I heard him direct those comments to me more than once. ěDrinking milkshakes and watching color TVî epitomized the good life to this kindly man. At the time, our family didnít own a color TV, so I could easily relate to his fantasy.
Mr. Wellmon was a tall, lanky gentleman that you wouldíve described in the 1960s as a man out of step with the times. While other teachers flirted with long sideburns and loud ties, there heíd stand, day after day, dressed in his plain sport jacket and skinny black tie.
His kind face and gentle smile never seemed to change. The man seemed totally incapable of anger. You could simply look into his eyes and tell when you were out of line. And with the force of sheer gentleness, he would nudge you back into the fold.
I never knew a teacher so in control of his classroom.
The odd thing is, though I had little interest in earth science, he made me care about it. I guess it was because I knew he cared about it, and he cared about me. He made the quest for knowledge contagious.
He stands tall in my memory today as the most remarkable teacher of my youth, an ambassador of education who understood his calling, and a man who would be humbly surprised to know how many lives he touched.
All of us have a Mr. Wellmon somewhere in our past. We can remember that teacher who made education more than a job. To them, it was a lifetime mission.
Our leaders talk of valuing that. I hope they truly do.
I do, and I would be willing to bear part of the cost of preserving that for my children and grandchildren.
This isnít the time to be thinning the ranks. Good teachers are already in short supply as wide-eyed students choose quick paths to financial prosperity over lives lived in service to others. We may very well turn around one day and realize that they are gone like the discarded toys of our past.
I know we must carefully examine budgets to eliminate waste. But the Mr. Wellmonís and the thousands of educational professionals out there like him are not waste.
They are among our most valued resources. Hereís hoping we start treating them that way.
Kent Bernhardt lives in Salisbury.

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