A fond look at boomers, by a woman who taught them

If you need to feel good today, read this warm essay that came to BoomerCafé from Judith Witmer of Hummelstown, Pennsylvania (which as she pointed out to us, is “adjacent to Hershey, where chocolate is made”). Judith isn’t a baby boomer herself, but after teaching some of our generation’s leading edge classes in school, it sounds like she wishes she were.

In the fall of 1960, I was a first-year teacher, coming from a suppressive 1950s Silent Generation background. I found myself part of a newly-created school district, freshly born in the exciting, vibrant, freedom-seeking, creative, “tangerine-colored” 1960s which, upon reflection, seems to have been built especially for Baby Boomers, providing just the nurturing the boomer generation needed to come of age.

Despite the fact that enrollment numbers were overwhelming and I didn’t have enough desks or books, and most students in this new district did not know one another any better than the faculty members knew their teaching cohorts, teachers and students alike felt the significance of building new traditions.

During those early years with the Baby Boomers I kept a diary, noting (on October 13, 1960, for instance) that “the choral music teacher came thundering into C-Faculty Room in a whirl, assigning every one of us who happened to be there a task for the first school musical, even though there was no funding for such a venture.” That was a sign that we were, indeed, in a special place.

In the fall of 1963 I was asked to teach Senior and Junior Academic English, thus meeting many of these students on a second and even a third round. As they went off to college, they wrote letters, remembering my room (B-1) as home base. Years later, one wrote, “It was social, academic, personal; a place to return to in order to get one’s balance and begin again; a place of primary concern for school work; a place for shaping relationships between student and teacher, where the training of our minds was implicit and where academic rigor was demanded, where human kindness and respect flourished.”

I watched the Class of ’64, wide-eyed at their responsibility to lead, then the ’65ers, bright, inventive, and driven. The Class of 1966, quite different from the Class of ’65, held their snappy belief that “We were a class with things to do, places to go, and people to meet.” The Class of ’67 instituted the Spirit Stick quest and the ’68ers wrote, “Where earlier classes had the Beach Boys, we had U2’s Early morning, April four, a shot rings out …”

Judith Witmer

In the passing years, I often was asked what happened in these 1960s classes that led to lifelong friendships with the students, friendships that I have defined as “singularly sensational.” I replied that they were open to new vistas and willing to work to accomplish their aspirations. I noted their lively style, their balance of academics and activities, and why they were unlike other decade classes. In so defining the Baby Boomers, I came to realize that they were who and what I had wanted to be in high school, but could not because of the stultifying culture in the 1950s.

Then, very recently, the quiet one in the back row made perhaps the most profound observation when she wrote to her classmates, “She totally believed in us.” Yes, I did.

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Judith’s book, The English Students of B-1: Singularly Sensational Boomers, is available on Amazon.

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1 Comment

  1. A wonderful article! Mrs. Winter was definitely one of a kind and taught is so much thstvwe didn’t realize it at the time but down the road in our walk, oh yea! That’s right- I heard that before, irvtead that before! Thank you!

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