Ode to Chief Warrant Officer Dowd

Published 12:00 pm Friday, April 8, 2016

t.j. ray 12c

When folks speak of the hallowed halls of ivy, other people immediately think of their own school days. From the distance of decades, the memories are soft and pleasant.

Truth is, however, that sometimes the ivy is poison. Having been infected by that poison myself once, I sympathize with anyone who catches it. My current pangs of sympathy are with a person whom I think of as student, colleague, and friend.

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One of my jobs at the University was working with the graduate assistants who taught freshman composition. One of them at one time was a girl named Arleen Dowd. As was normal, I sat in on some of her classes to monitor her work. I also had the pleasure of having her in some classes I taught. Well do I recall her costume at the medieval banquet my Chaucer class put on.

Years later we found ourselves in a different relationship. She was teaching junior high English, and I was on the school board. During those years I visited many classes at the invitation of the teachers. In Arleen’s case, I not only enjoyed the classes and watched student presentations, but I seem to recall even making a presentation at one of them. Only a blind man could not see the rapport she had with those kids and their affection for her.

Ah, but the ivy catches on. Last summer one of her faculty friends contacted me about some difficulties concerning Arleen. An administrator convinced the school board that a teacher with three decades of experience in teaching one subject should be removed from that role and required to teach a subject she had never taught.

I can only surmise that the expectation was that she would likely resign at the move. But she didn’t. She no doubt did as fine a job in Social Studies as she had done in English.

As the scrutiny of her situation progressed, she was not given the details of what the administrator had told the board. Nor was she even allowed in the room when she was being discussed.

In many emails and phone calls with folks in that school, I became convinced that all of this was the result of that administrator’s resentment of the time away from school when she had military duty. Several people convinced me that they had heard him voice that viewpoint.

Now it is true that active duty assignments did take her out of the classroom to go and do instruction on military posts, but federal law protects — or is supposed to protect — civilian/soldiers in such a situation. Of course with no record of what she was charged with, there really was no way to make a federal case of it.

Recently Arleen wrote me to say she is retiring from the school system. For the next two years gifted middle school students in Europe will have the benefit of her superb instruction. Back here at home a fairly new young person will teach the English classes Dowd should be teaching.

Also back here, the school board and school administrators will go their merry way, having failed miserably to treat an excellent and dedicated teacher with the respect she deserved.

During all the talk about the reassignment last summer, my letters on her behalf yielded blah responses. I’ll not bore you with reading them as they bored me. But to Arleen may I say su andan itibaren Adil yelken ve pürüzsüz suları (Fair sailing and smooth waters from now on.)

TJ Ray, a retired professor of English at the University of Mississippi, can be reached at tjmaryjo@bellsouth.net.