Up Close and Personal with Some of Chattanooga’s Most Memorable Teachers
Legendary Educators In The Scenic City
Beloved teachers leave an indelible mark on their students, helping to instill a love of learning and introducing students to concepts that can alter the course of their lives. Read on to discover a small sample of some of our area’s legendary educators, each of whom began teaching at least 30 years ago and who have since retired from the academic world. Through their skill and dedication, hundreds of students were encouraged to be the best they could be.
By Julianne Hale
Spencer J. McCallie III
Spencer J. McCallie III|McCallie School
Spencer J. McCallie with current headmaster Lee Burns and assistant headmaster Kenny Sholl
Spencer J. McCallie III with students
Spencer McCallie III was born into a family of educators and knew from an early age that he wanted to be involved in the family business. His grandfather and great-uncle founded McCallie School, and his entry into the professional world of education began in 1963 after he returned from a stint in the Navy to teach at McCallie. He left briefly to pursue a master’s degree at Harvard and returned to McCallie in 1965, where he taught English to juniors and seniors, coached soccer, taught P.E., and lived as a dormitory master. In 1974, McCallie became the headmaster and remained in that position until his retirement in 1999.
One of McCallie’s primary responsibilities as headmaster was to support the faculty at the school, a job that he took great pride in. “I look back and think about the faculty at McCallie. They were some of the nicest, most interesting people in the world. They were unselfish with their time and talent,” he explains. “Spending time with the coaches and teachers on that campus was such a pleasure. Many of us lived there, and we really got to know one another.”
McCallie’s most memorable time as headmaster came during the frequent assemblies that were held at the school. “I never quite knew what would happen in assembly because the boys had such a great sense of humor,” he recalls. “There were times when we would invite speakers to the school and the boys reacted with great glee to what they were saying, leaving the speakers baffled. They had no idea what was so amusing.” McCallie also enjoyed the incredible school spirit that the students and faculty brought to the school’s many sporting events. Today, McCallie takes great pleasure in frequently running into alumni around town, who bring back great memories and give him confidence in the present.
“I look back and think about the faculty at McCallie. They were some of the nicest, most interesting people in the world.”
Like so many other dedicated teachers, Freeman’s most rewarding moments came when she witnessed her students making the connections that she worked so hard to teach. “I think back about precious moments during my career, and it was those times when a student’s face would light up as she realized she had made a breakthrough and truly understood what I was talking about.”
“I think back about precious moments during my career, and it was those times when a student’s face would light up as she realized she had made a breakthrough and truly understood what I was talking about.”
The most important part of being an effective teacher, according to Freeman, is to become an expert on your subject and develop a passion for it. “Teachers should not be afraid to let their excitement about the subject matter spill over into the classroom,” she says. “The most memorable teachers have high expectations of their students and do not dumb down the material.”
Dr. Quentin Lane
Dr. Quentin Lane | Chattanooga Public Schools and Cleveland State Community College
r. D.F. Adkisson and Dr. Quentin lane, circa 1977
Dr. Quentin Lane began his freshman year at Middle Tennessee State College (now University) determined to become a dentist. He took education courses along with his dental classes and ended up doing some student teaching. It was this stint as a student teacher that ended up changing the course of his life. “My experience was so great that I decided to become an educator during my senior year of college,” explains Lane.
“He said that he left my office that day determined to make something of himself, if only to prove me wrong.”
Lane began his educational career in 1954 teaching mathematics, typewriting, and physical education at Hardy Junior High School. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1957 and returned in 1959 as a teacher of mathematics, science, and industrial arts at Elbert S. Long School. He was selected as assistant principal of the new Brainerd Senior High School in 1960 and returned to Elbert S. Long School as principal in 1962. In 1964 Lane was selected to serve as the director of public relations for the Tennessee Education Association. He returned to the Chattanooga Public Schools System as director of personnel services in 1967. He was employed by Cleveland State Community College in 1971, where he served in several administrative positions and retired as president of the college in 1985. He later served in administrative positions at higher education institutions in Tennessee, South Carolina, and Florida, where he and his wife currently reside.
Throughout his career, Lane was determined to help students achieve success. On one memorable occasion, this achievement quite literally landed on his desk. “When I was working at Cleveland State Community College, a gentleman walked into my office and said, ‘You don’t remember me, do you?’ I did remember him, but he continued, ‘I wanted to come see you and show you something that you are responsible for.’ He reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of paper and put it on my desk. It was a Xeroxed copy of his master’s degree. He was one of my students at Brainerd High School, and I had disciplined him on one occasion and it left an impression. He said that he left my office that day determined to make something of himself, if only to prove me wrong.”
Gail Nevins | Chattanooga High School (City High) and Notre Dame High School
Gail Nevins, circa 2010
Gail Nevins has always loved mathematics. Her enthusiasm for the subject helped her graduate from college in three and a half years, and she began teaching at Chattanooga High School (City High) in 1967 while also completing her master’s degree. Nevins started working full time at Notre Dame High School in 1973, where she stayed until her retirement in 2010. “I wanted to show my students the importance of math in their lives and how it could be applied to the real world,” Nevins explains. To do this, she thought outside the box, supplementing textbook learning with singing, dancing, and her own ingenuity.
“I loved seeing students who were fearful of math or had bad experiences with it earlier see the value and application of it in their own lives. I called this ‘seeing the lights turned on.’”
Nevins taught higher math—algebra I through AP calculus—to juniors and seniors, and she sometimes struggled with translating these higher math concepts into real world applications. Because of this, she designed a course pertaining to federal income tax and insurance in 1978 that helped students see how they could apply the math concepts they were learning to real life. “I loved seeing students who were fearful of math or had bad experiences with it earlier see the value and application of it in their own lives. I called this ‘seeing the lights turned on.’ That was personally rewarding to me because it proved that all of my efforts meant something,” says Nevins.
In her 43 years of teaching, 10 of which were as an adjunct faculty member at UTC, Nevins learned a great deal about student performance and how to teach effectively. She says, “You have to be flexible in your teaching style since all students learn by different methods. You have to be a pretty good prognosticator of how each student is going to learn. Teaching is not a 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. job. You have to keep the standards of learning high. If you accept mediocrity, that’s all you’ll get. A student’s performance will always correlate with their teacher’s expectations.”
Irvin Overton| Howard High School
Irvin Overton, circa 1966
Irvin Overton was just 21 years old when he began teaching at Howard High School in 1965. Unlike many successful teachers, Overton didn’t feel it was necessarily his calling to teach. He chose the career because it was one of the only options available to him at the time. He explains, “We didn’t have a lot of choices back in the late ’50s and early ’60s. You could be a teacher or a preacher, but the jobs were very limited. I knew I could get a job as a teacher, and that is why I chose the profession. I knew that it was not what I wanted to do for the long haul, but it allowed me to enter the workforce and pave the way for my future.”
A Howard graduate himself, Overton related well to his students. “I was from the neighborhood, still young, and a college graduate that had done well in Howard as a student and had come back as a teacher. I think this enabled me to be a more effective mentor for my students,” he says.
In addition to teaching U.S. history, an American democracy class, and economics, Overton participated in many extracurricular activities beyond the classroom, including coaching football and assisting with a drama program. “Helping in these activities allowed me to connect with students in a unique way,” Overton explains. “Students in these clubs would bring their problems to us and allowed us to help mentor them.”
Some of the students I taught became doctors and lawyers, but I’m just proud of them for staying in Chattanooga and becoming good parents and good citizens.”
As predicted, Overton’s teaching career opened many doors for him in the Chattanooga community, leading to several leadership positions. Overton continues to see his former students in the community, reminding him of his days at Howard. “Some of the students I taught became doctors and lawyers, but I’m just proud of them for staying in Chattanooga and becoming good parents and good citizens,” he says.
Allan Ledford| Chattanooga High School Center for Creative Arts
Mr. Ledford circa 1988, with the Chattanooga High School Choir
Allan Ledford’s desire to become a teacher stemmed from his love of school. “School is such a wonderful social experiment with all of the extracurricular activities. The thought of being able to participate in school for the rest of my life was really appealing to me,” Ledford says. He began his career teaching music to students in Knoxville in the early ’80s, and in 1987 he was asked to help start a performing arts magnet program in Chattanooga.
In the beginning, the school existed within City High, but it eventually expanded to become the freestanding Chattanooga High School Center for Creative Arts. Ledford taught choir and musical theater at the school and helped students perform multiple musicals each year. He also started Choo Choo Kids, a musical theater troupe of students that performed at Lake Winnepesaukah during the summer.
School is such a wonderful social experiment with all of the extracurricular activities. The thought of being able to participate in school for the rest of my life was really appealing to me.”
“I’d write a show, and we could rotate them throughout the summer,” he recalls. “The kids did 170 performances each summer. This helped some students determine whether or not they wanted to choose performance art as their career. There are certain things that you can only do in front of an audience, and this experience taught my kids a great deal.”
Ledford retired in 2010 after a 30-year career and has no regrets. Seeing the lives of students change through their exposure to the performing arts has been the most rewarding part of his career. “In my second or third year at the magnet school, I was taking a group of children to Atlanta and on the drive back, a student told me that he had always felt different but being at the magnet school changed his life,” recalls Ledford. “That type of experience can’t be quantified, but it is so much better than finding out you got a 20 percent raise.”
Wil Davis|Chattanooga Christian School
Wil Davis, circa 1981
Wil Davis has a teaching career that spans two countries and more than four decades. It began with a five-year stint teaching in a Seattle school, followed by ten years instructing missionary children in South Korea. After returning to the States, Davis settled in Chattanooga and began his 30-year career at Chattanooga Christian School (CCS).
After spending time working with young people in high school and college, Davis knew that his calling was working with children. He settled on math as his subject of choice and went to school to become a teacher. Circumstances led to a different outcome, and his teaching focus eventually shifted to music. “When I found out that more of my music credits would transfer from one school to the other, I decided to pursue music education,” says Davis.“I discovered there are a lot of similarities in the way you think about both music and math.”
“Teachers must love what they teach but, more than that, they must love whom they teach.”
While he did teach math and science at different points in his career, teaching music to elementary students would become Davis’ most treasured life work. “I felt the most fulfilled at CCS because I had the students for six years—from kindergarten to fifth grade. I was able to lay a wonderful foundation and build on it over the years to see how students grew in their understanding of music,” recalls Davis. Since most students stayed at CCS through 12th grade, Davis had the opportunity to watch them grow, even after they left his classroom. Some of his students went on to pursue music as a career. He attributes his success to a true passion for his subject matter and a love for his students. “Teachers must love what they teach but, more than that, they must love whom they teach,” Davis says.
Schaack Van Deusen
Schaack Van Deusen | Baylor School
Schaack Van Deusen with student circa 1985
Schaack Van Deusen spent eight summers of his youth coaching baseball and tennis at the Lookout Mountain playground. It was during these summers that he discovered his love for working with children and decided to become an educator. He began his teaching career at Notre Dame High School in 1965 and moved to Baylor School in 1977, where he taught acting courses, English, and public speaking, along with coaching wrestling and serving as theater director until his retirement in 2012.
In his early days of teaching, Van Deusen spent all of his free time trying to become an expert on the material. “I did a lot of homework,” he says. “I learned more in the first year or two of teaching literature than I ever did in any class. I was just determined to bring something to my students that they hadn’t learned before, and I worked very hard to prepare the materials.”
I think I supplied energy and enthusiasm, and they gave it back to me. To get a basketball player to read All the King’s Men from cover to cover—that was very satisfying, and it gave the young people a sense of pride.”
His hard work paid off, and Van Deusen thrived on the energy of his students. “I just love working with young people,” he explains. “I think I supplied energy and enthusiasm, and they gave it back to me. To get a basketball player to read All the King’s Men from cover to cover—that was very satisfying, and it gave the young people a sense of pride.”
It was his experience as a coach and working with students outside of the classroom that really helped Van Deusen connect with students. “I got to know my students under a very different set of circumstances, and they got to know me in a different environment,” he explains. “I believe coaches should be teachers so they can take their experience to another level.”
Dorothy Stone|Chattanooga Central High School
Dorothy Stone, circa 1981
“I did not intend to teach. That was the last thing I was going to do,” recalls Dorothy Stone. Her intentions were foiled when she became a graduate assistant at Tennessee Tech, where part of her job was to teach western civilization to freshman engineering students. While difficult, the experience opened Stone’s eyes to how much she enjoyed researching and putting her lectures together. She decided to pursue a career in education and was hired to teach at Chattanooga Central High School in 1965. She stayed there until her retirement, 43 years later, in 2008.
“My students never realized that I was studying them while I taught, trying to get to know them and help them discover what they could be.”
“When I started teaching, I thought I was going to teach U.S. history, but when I got there, I found I had been assigned to teach 10th grade English,” Stone says. She finally got to teach a U.S. history class in the late ’70s, but teaching the same subject five hours a day started to become stale. Stone decided to develop a new course that included a strong writing component and used American literature to teach U.S. history. Stone and her colleague, Dr. Cathy Robbs Baker, taught the class together for 23 years, eventually adding a travel component that included taking all students on a week-long trip to various historical sites in the United States. “I loved every one of those students and those trips. They were all wonderful,” recalls Stone.
Stone eventually became the head of the social studies department. Her greatest reward, however, was getting to know the students and helping them see their own potential. “My students never realized that I was studying them while I taught, trying to get to know them and help them discover what they could be. I never did just teach my subject. I tried to make it interesting enough that they would listen and think about their lives and what they could be.”