By Glenda Price: New Mexico columnist
A couple of weeks ago we got to know B.J. Pierce, world Champion tiedown calf roper. This week I’d like you to meet B.J. Pierce, gifted school teacher.
After about 13 years of solid rodeoing, B.J. retired from rodeo and began teaching school. He taught sixth grade — “whatever classes needed teaching,” and began training rope horses in his “spare” time.
Although B.J. doesn’t say this, many of us believe a number of the same methods we use training horses also are useful with children. By that I mean consistency and avoiding burnout. Once you get it right, you shouldn’t be forced to repeat it a gazillion times. You’ve got it already!
His first few years were at Highland Elementary School in his hometown, Clovis. Then he requested — and got — a transfer to a school where the students were at-risk. “I was gonna stay one year,” he says, “and I ended up staying 31 years. I loved my kids.”
During that time his class sizes varied from 35 to 43 students. His classroom was predicated on mutual respect. “I never called my students by their first names,” he says. “They were Miss or Mr. whatever the last name, and I was Mr. Pierce.”
The first thing he told his students was: “Everybody will pass if you try.” He was there to help — if they were trying.
Also, B.J. points out that “kids want to know where the line is, for discipline.” Now and then he did resort to a bit of attitude adjustment.
In his class every student had a number, and everyone corrected his or her own papers, and worked problems out on the chalkboard. Usually, if a student had an unsolved problem, the process of working it out on the board helped to discover — and correct — it. “They had fun while learning,” B.J. comments. We would all agree “fun while learning” is hugely important. That’s true of us grownups, also.
B.J. notes that school curriculums don’t address the true needs in our society.
“We are in the third generation of not teaching our kids skills they need. Every girl needs a class in equipment repairs, and every boy needs to learn how to cook and to wash clothes.”
B.J.’s students often came by in later years to visit with him. He especially remembers one young man who said, during his visit, he was in charge of the biggest auto body shop in Dallas.
B.J., remembering the youngster’s difficulty with mathematics, asked, “How do you handle the math problem?”
The young man laughed and replied, “I hired a secretary who’s good at math.”
That youngster had learned the most valuable lesson any teacher can impart — the ability to think for himself and to solve a problem in perhaps a different way.
By the way, a recent Texas Public Policy Foundation study regarding the much-ballyhooed school consolidation of the 20th century found: “The number of school districts in the nation declined more than 60 percent from 1960 to 1984 while school administration grew 500 percent, number of principals grew 79 percent, the number of teachers only 57 percent.”