Beloved teacher inspired, mentored her students and colleagues

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Miriam Moore Dunn, beloved teacher and mentor to dozens of local people, died at the age of 91 on Oct. 20, 2018.

“Mickey” Dunn, as she was affectionately called, taught Spanish, English, journalism and yearbook for schools in Wilson County for most of her career and is remembered for her strong influence on the lives of her students and co-workers.

Hundreds of students and teachers could share their stories about Mrs. Dunn’s influence on their lives. Here is my personal testimony.

Mrs. Dunn was my eighth-grade language arts teacher at Charles L. Coon when it served as a junior high school in the past. Her room was on the third floor and had a good window view of the big water tank, which towered over the whole neighborhood. That year, many of us students in her class casually talked about wandering from the playground and climbing up the steps of the tower. Mrs. Dunn laughed at our folly when she overheard our schemes of breaking away from the school and getting into mischief.

Many other experiences about that eighth-grade class come to mind. During a grammar lesson when Mrs. Dunn introduced us to verbals, she wrote sentences on the board and asked us to go to the board one at a time, pick out the verbals, tell what kind each was and how it was used in the sentence. Some students struggled with the lesson, grammar not being their strong point.

After I had taken my turn at the board, Mrs. Dunn said, “You catch on to verbals just like that,” and she snapped her fingers crisply on the word “that.”

I was so proud of her comment that I decided I wanted to teach English, just like Mrs. Dunn. Her compliment went a long way with me.

Another experience our class had that year was the time that Mrs. Dunn decided to teach us about ballroom dancing as a special treat and let us perform our dancing skills on the Coon stage in front of the whole student body. As we performed the dances we had learned, we charmed the audience by demonstrating the cha-cha, waltz, foxtrot and a toned-down version of the Lindy-hop, the footwork and crinoline slips sweeping the stage floor as Mrs. Dunn watched from backstage. I can still picture Mrs. Dunn demonstrating the cha-cha to the recording of “Patricia.”

Since I took French in high school, Mrs. Dunn did not teach me Spanish as she did hundreds of other students. I have heard that she not only taught the language, but she also sang the songs, danced the dances and made the cultures of Spanish-speaking countries come alive for so many eager minds.

We all remember her crisp enunciation, her crinkled eyes, her easy laugh and her lovely smile as we sat in her classes and thrived on her teaching and her personality.

When I became a teacher myself at Fike High School, her room was directly across from mine. By that time, she was also teaching journalism and yearbook, and she always covered the window on her door to keep students from peeping and trying to find out what the next edition of the school newspaper would be like and what the yearbook would have in store for the student body.

The year before Mrs. Dunn was planning to retire, she asked me to replace her as the journalism teacher and adviser to the school newspaper. I was apprehensive, thinking that I did not know enough to take over what she had been doing for years.

Mrs. Dunn assured me that she would help me through my first year and that the Journalism II students already knew how to write for the paper, lay out a dummy, sell ads, distribute papers to the student body and perform all the other tasks required to produce a school newspaper.

I decided to accept the challenge. That year, Mrs. Dunn warned me to be careful as the newspaper adviser, since students might want to take shortcuts, get sloppy in their writing and layout and sneak inappropriate pictures into print if I did not advise and monitor them carefully. She also warned me to check to be sure someone unplugged the old-fashioned hot wax roller that we used in laying out papers in those days, since it might get too hot and cause a fire.

After Mrs. Dunn retired, someone did leave the hot wax roller plugged in at the end of the day. I had to call the principal late that night and have him ask the night custodian to unplug it. Mrs. Dunn never learned about the potential fiasco.

Each time I went into Mrs. Dunn’s room that year to get help with the newspaper, I examined a framed picture of her interviewing Eleanor Roosevelt. Mrs. Dunn, a young woman in the picture, sat on the edge of her chair, pen and pad in hand, wearing a stylish suit and a smart little black hat. She was obviously having a lively interview with Mrs. Roosevelt, since both of them were smiling and engaged in the conversation. Mrs. Roosevelt was also wearing a hat, but it was not as smart as the young Mrs. Dunn’s.

I never got around to asking about the story behind the picture, but I was impressed with Mrs. Dunn’s interviewing such a famous woman.

Miriam “Mickey” Moore Dunn, the teacher with the stylish clothes, the high heels, the crisp voice, the sparkling eyes, the easy laugh and the knowledge of Spanish, English, journalism and yearbook — we all thank you for being our mentor and for your fine example of what educators have the power to do.

Why not ask some of Mrs. Dunn’s other students to tell you about her? They will surely have some interesting anecdotes as well.

Sanda Baucom Hight is retired from Wilson County Schools after serving as an English teacher and is currently a substitute teacher in Wilson County. Her column focuses on the charms of home, school and country life.