Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - April 29, 2011
The quiet student in the back row
"A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops."
Henry Brooks Adams was a journalist, historian, academic, novelist and a descendant of two U.S. presidents. He probably knew what he was talking about when he said those words. Still, I think it is an occupational hazard of teaching to sometimes wonder if you are making any difference. The students who leave my classroom each day look and act pretty much the way they did when they came in. The semester passes and then the years and soon they are gone. I often wonder if that quiet student in the back row took away anything from my class.
But when I look back at my own life, I know that I was one of those quiet students. Many of my teachers had a big effect on me. Yet I doubt they knew it at the time. I'm not even sure I knew it myself.
I saw two of those teachers at my department's centennial celebration last September and again earlier this month.
Bill Brown was a 1949 K-State journalism graduate who was drawn to teaching. But he said he wanted to get a lot of experience in journalism before he attempted to teach it to others. He returned to K-State after serving as a reporter and editor at several newspapers. He was the editor of the Garden City Telegram when the Herbert Clutter family was murdered, a crime made famous by Truman Capote's book, "In Cold Blood." Bill made it plain he didn't like Capote because he believed Capote embellished the facts and was insensitive to those who knew the family.
That sensitivity part always surprised me as Bill always seemed to me to be the epitome of a crusty old editor. He was my adviser and Reporting 2 teacher and the adviser to the K-State Collegian, where I worked several semesters in the 1970s.
In the reporting class, he told us over and over, "Don't assume anything. It makes a you-know-what out of 'u' and 'me.'" Another pet peeve was 'holding' a meeting. "It's not something you can 'hold' in your hands," he said.
But his guidance involved much more than those easily-repeated tidbits. Bill taught us the importance of accuracy. And he instilled in us the knowledge that good journalism is necessary for a strong democracy.
Carol Oukrop was another teacher who had a great influence on me. Dr. O gained practical experience while working on newspapers in her home state of North Dakota. She received her Ph.D. at the University of Iowa and joined the K-State journalism faculty in 1969.
When I was a student, she taught editing. I recall how she warned us that a good editor had to have a dirty mind. She said if we didn't look at every story, headline or photo caption for some double meaning and we let one slip through, we could be certain our readers would find it.
A major assignment in her class was to analyze a newspaper - its content, photo quality, headlines, special sections, etc. Wanting to do my best for her, I selected the Los Angeles Times, one of the largest papers in the country.
After graduation, I left K-State to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador and a reporter in Costa Rica and Kansas.
But when I returned in 1983 to join the K-State journalism and mass communications department, Bill and Carol were still on the faculty. They became my colleagues as well as my mentors. I watched how they interacted with students, and I patterned my own teaching style after the lessons they taught me. It was during this time they shifted from being professors Brown and Oukrop to Bill and Carol.
Bill attended late husband Jerome's and my wedding in 1979. He and his wife gave us a love bird ornament, which hangs on our Christmas tree every year. Carol attended Mom's 80th birthday party in 2004.
Both are now retired and have gone from being colleagues to being friends.
But when they were teaching, I imagine they too wondered about whether they had any effect on that quiet student in the back row.
I can say with certainty, they did on at least one.
Bill Brown and Carol Oukrop with their student.