The teacher still teaches

I’ve a real a treat for you today (and the coming days, actually.) Today I begin a series of interview questions with my high school English teacher, Frank Barone. He is retired now but still lives in San Diego and he and I get together now and then for coffee and book talk.

In ninth grade, when I took my first class from him at Poway High School, I was itching to write but lacked confidence, focus, and skill. He gave all three to me and I’m forever grateful. The last time we met (at Panera over java) I asked him if I might interview him for my blog. He said yes! Today begins the first of the posts with his answers. My first question was to let us peek into his biography. Here it is! (By the way, the photo above is us in the present day, the black and white one is him in 1976, the year he taught my ninth-grade comp class and the last one is me when he met me and told me I was a writer . . .

Frank: I will be eighty-two this coming January 30th. Born in the borough of Queens, New York City, in 1929, my Italian-American parents raised me along with my three brothers and a sister through the Depression, a time of great learning about survival, sacrifice, and sharing. My father worked hard to provide for his family, and my mother always made us feel accepted and loved.

At nineteen I left New York to attend a seminary to study for the priesthood. Seven years later I left the seminary because of doubts about my vocation. However, those seminary years had a significant influence on my life, spiritually, for the education I received, and for the friends I made.

I became a teacher for practical reasons. I needed a job and I needed to make some money to survive. With the one education course I had in the seminary, two degrees, and with my training to work with and for people, I decided to apply for a teaching position. A Catholic boys’ school hired me, to teach Latin and English, mostly because of my experience of working with young people at a summer day camp. After one year there I accepted a teaching position at a similar school in Queens for an increase in salary. I taught there for seven years. During this time I also coached freshman basketball and in my spare time obtained a Master’s Degree in Education. Someone once told me it did not matter why we entered the profession, but why we stayed in it. I stayed because I liked working with young people.

In 1963 during a summer vacation to visit my younger brother I met my future wife. I knew after just one date I had found someone special. After returning to New York I continued to pursue her with phone calls, roses, and a letter every day. I came out again to San Diego at Christmas time, proposed, and she accepted my proposal (Ah, the power of writing.) We became engaged at Easter and married in June, 1964. Our marriage lasted until July of 1993 when cancer took her away. Our teacher-daughter and our lawyer-son continue to give affirmation to their mother who raised them with love and care and a sense of humor.

My teaching career spanned eight years in New York City and twenty-nine years at Poway High School in San Diego until I retired in 1993. After I retired I taught for two years at a local community college. Always a teacher, I still do an occasional workshop on poetry for students.

Me: I LOVE that! “Someone once told me it did not matter why we entered the profession, but why we stayed in it.” Okay. First question: What was the best part about teaching high school students? Worst?

Frank: The best part came for me came ten years into my teaching career when I put my students’ desks in a circle, sat down with them, and listened to them. That one change made a significant difference in my career and transformed my classes. Now the students talked and I listened, participated with them, and served as a resource person for their individual and group needs. My classes changed from teacher-directed to student-centered. I could see not only how much more relaxed they were, but also how much more involved they became with their education and with each other. That change also relaxed me and helped me to get to know them better as real persons and learners, not just names in a roll book. And they came to know me better as well since I shared myself with them, wrote and did assignments along with them. We all learned more by listening to each other in the sharing circle and by working together in groups during the workshop time. I became a better teacher from listening to my students and learning from them. Many of them became, and remain, my friends.

No worst part. Yes, I had some difficult days and difficult students, but so does every profession. My training and experience and the support from my teacher-friends helped me to cope and to turn some of those down times into positive experiences. I am always grateful that Providence put me in San Diego, at Poway High, and in English classes where I could grow along with the young people I taught.

Me: I fondly remember that circle! And I am glad to be one of the students who is now, thirty-five years later, a friend . . .

More on Monday . . .

Author: Susan

This post has 23 Comments

  1. Joanne Bischof on December 10, 2010 at 11:08 pm

    What a blessing! I'm so glad you are sharing this.

  2. Jodie on December 10, 2010 at 11:18 pm

    How wonderful! English teachers are real blessings. So glad to “meet” yours!!!

  3. Marge Moulton on December 10, 2010 at 11:30 pm

    I had a high school English teacher in Richmond, Indiana, who I still value for teaching me sentence structure. I remember no encouragement for writing. I remember this other gift.

  4. carla stewart on December 12, 2010 at 12:21 am

    I LOVE this! And those plaid pants say it all, don't they? I'm so glad for you, Sooz, that you had encouragement early on. I did too, and just recently, a former classmate said to me – “Mrs. Chisum would be so proud.” Mrs. Chisum – my English teacher in my Jr and Sr years who's graduated to eternity.

  5. Dominique on January 23, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    Sue, I'm a little behind….but I just read the 3 “teacher” blog/interviews….loved them! Thanks for sharing and for your great advice I often think about from 7 years ago…..”do something you love”. I'm thankful to be so blessed from your love of writing and am grateful for your advice to follow my love of teaching and traveling. Abrazos!!

  6. Tim Fischer on June 1, 2011 at 9:15 pm

    I went to Poway High from 1986-1990. In my senior year, I took Mr. Barone's class on Creative Writing and remember the 21 senses very well.

    I loved his class so much, I used to ditch Mr. Sanders' electronics class and would sneak into his later classes. I loved Mr. Barone…

    “Give me your lilacs…..”

  7. Susan Meissner on June 1, 2011 at 11:14 pm

    Thanks for stopping by, Tim! I will tell him you were here 🙂

  8. Anonymous on May 8, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    Sue, I was trying to find Frank Barone on the internet today. On this teacher appreciation day, I just wanted to thank him for being such a great support during high school. His classes were a true pleasure to be part of. Not only did he teach me how to write, but how to express myself (which I really needed). I wish every troubled teen had such an inspiring teacher to help them trough the rough times and provide them with skills to last a lifetime. Thanks Mr. B. Daniel – 1986.

  9. Susan Meissner on May 14, 2012 at 4:38 am

    Dan, if you want to leave your email address, I can forward it to Mr. Barone. Just email me at susanlmeissner[@]cox[dot]net

  10. Xabi on May 25, 2012 at 3:55 am


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  11. Karen Meddows--Carey on May 11, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    I had Mr. Barone for writing Sem in 1983-84. I loved his classes, and this brought some wonderful memories back. Thanks!

  12. Ken on December 29, 2013 at 3:39 am

    78 to 82 student


  13. Marie Seagren-Hayes on June 30, 2014 at 6:42 am

    Susan, what a delight to find this interview with Mr. Barone! Every time my high school friends and I get together, he comes up in conversation with glowing compliments that would turn his ears red! Regretfully, I was once one of his “difficult students” (akin to a sulking cat), but he figured out a way to encourage me, and it actually worked! I’ve been using the way he taught his classes (Humanities and Writing Seminar) as a model in my own teaching and ESL tutoring all these years, and feel very lucky to have had such a positive example to follow.

  14. Lizzie on September 12, 2014 at 9:22 pm

    Finally i quit my day job, now i earn decent money online
    you should try too, just type in google – slabs roulette system

  15. Debbie on September 19, 2014 at 7:14 am

    I just decided to google Frank Barone to see what came up and found your post. Mr. Barone was a life-changing teacher for me. I had his class for three out of four years when I was at Poway High, majored in writing at UCSD, and have been teaching English for 25 years. I still give him credit every year when I face a new class of kids, but I don’t think I’ve ever managed to pass that on to him. If you are still checking responses, I would love to know how to contact him, just to say thanks. 🙂

  16. Susan on September 19, 2014 at 8:27 pm

    How wonderful, Debbie! I will send him your email address and I am sure he will contact you. Many other former students have read this blog post and contacted him through me. It’s no surprise to me that this happens with relative frequency. Thanks for reaching out!

  17. Cheryl Bristow(Sparks) on November 14, 2014 at 6:17 pm

    I had American Lit with Mr Barone in grade 10 in 1968. He introduced me to live theatre and poetry. I will never forget seeing “Spoon River Anthology” I credit Mr Barone with my love of books and the theatre. Thank you for interviewing him.

  18. Sam Holty on February 27, 2015 at 5:58 pm

    I was one of those students who took Mr. Barone’s class just about every semester from 1978 to 1981 at Poway High. Initially, I took his class because he would give an A to anyone who had a work published. My grandmother faithfully submitted my trite little poems to the arts editors at her local newspaper, and several were published. I was a generic and insecure writer at first, but Mr. Barone helped me find my voice. I used to be terrified of submitting my writing for review. I recall how our assignments had to be placed on the floor, inside the circle, for other students to review and comment. Mr. Barone’s reviews were firmly but gently encouraging. He had a humble, joyful and creative spirit that inspired me. Now I consider my writing a strength. It has helped me have a successful and fulfilling career in business. I only wish my high school age children had a writing teacher like Mr. Barone. I hope Mr. Barone knows how important he was to his students. He was, and still is, important to me.

  19. Susan on March 6, 2015 at 12:59 am

    Hey, Sam! Thanks for stopping by! I will be meeting Frank Barone for coffee next month and I will certainly pass on to him your lovely comments. You’re not the first to write to me and tell me he was as influential to them as he was to me. I love sharing these testimonials with him. Thanks so much for sharing.

  20. Lyn McGrael on August 5, 2016 at 6:41 pm

    Hi Susan,
    I was so happy to find this post on Frank Barone! I met him at a professional development seminar many years ago through my school district
    (Santee School District). He changed my teaching and enriched it so! I was just planning my first day of school with his poem, “A Poem for the First Day of School,” which I use every year and decided to find him on the internet. He used to come to my classroom to introduce poetry to my sixth graders. Last I know, he said his health was such that he couldn’t come anymore. Is he still in San Diego? I still use his poetry to inspire and teach my students how to write poetry. I use his “Purple Balloon” book. He touched my life and still touches my students’ lives every year. 🙂

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