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Washington Voices

Ms. Decker’s influence felt decades later

Sat., May 5, 2012

There are certain teachers you never forget. Every year as the school term comes to a close, the teachers I admired come to mind, for they were the ones who taught me to think outside the box.

My eighth-grade American history teacher, Ms. Decker, was such an instructor. She zealously dove into the past like a dog into a steak bone, stripping the bone and laying bare the facts of our country. She made us think of the future, the past and how much we had to offer.

“History is a bridge to your future,” she exclaimed. “You will be active participants!”

It mattered not how disinterested we seemed, she pulled us into history with no concern of what we wanted, yet knowing we would emerge triumphant. We, in turn, bellyached – only to discover she was right. Ms. Decker anticipated our reaction and somehow, through teacher magic, she instilled the belief we could make a difference. No easy feat when faced with children of the ’60s, a country in turmoil and rebellion etched in our souls like wide cracks in a desert landscape.

She was energetic, imaginative, decisive. The rigors of educational hierarchy and red tape hadn’t worn her down yet. Questions were flung at us in rapid fire and her high cheekbones twitched slightly waiting for our equally eager responses. We placed her on that teacher pedestal specifically reserved for those who alter the route of life’s road by allowing new thought to replace the mundane.

Shortly after Ms. Decker’s wedding announcement, my friends and I saw her at the store. Adolescence was in full swing and we were the pictures of defiance with long hair dangling at our waists, love beads twisted tight around our necks, tie-dyed shirts and hippie bell-bottoms that hung languidly to the ground. A chagrined Ms. Decker stood before us, snug jeans and knit turtleneck hugged her curves, long silky locks of hair, liberated from the usual French twist, clung to the tips of her shoulders and flowed down her back. All of us choked out a surprised, “Hi,” and marveled at how unique, fascinating and very human she really was.

Forty years later I still recall the vitality of Ms. Decker. Although I’ve enjoyed studying with many fascinating instructors, I’ve never met anyone who matched her teaching finesse. From the mock presidential convention staged by her combined seventh- and eighth-grade history classes – and covered by the local newspaper – to the civil rights slides we produced which, I hope, left an indelible mark on future students, her unique teaching style and effervescent wisdom wrapped tightly around every class project like a warm blanket.

There are times I wonder if she was able to keep history as exciting for those who followed as it was for us that year.

With all my heart, I certainly hope so.

Voices correspondent Sandra Babcock can be reached by e-mail at Previous columns are available at


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