(06/12/2018)
SIDNEY UNDERWOOD: FRED BARNES WAS A FANTASTIC TEACHER Remembering Fred Barnes Who Taught Biology At Old Calhoun High

By Sidney Underwood 2014

My first day in Mr. Fred Barnes’ Biology class is something that I will always remember. It was the beginning of my sophomore year in September of 1957. He almost scared me to death before the class even started.

We students could tell by Mr. Barnes’ demeanor that he was about to make a serious pronouncement as we found our seats. After he shut the door, a hush fell over the room because he stood in front of his desk not moving and looking toward the windows in back of the room. For several seconds the room was so quiet, you could hear a pin drop.

We could sense the coiled energy inside him. Mr. Barnes then spoke the following words, “I am selling one way tickets out of here so you better listen up and pay attention or you will not be here long. I expect you to be on time for my class.

I expect you to read and complete the homework assignments. I hope you like where you are sitting now because I don’t have time to call the roll every day and you will be considered absent if you are not in your seat.” We students had never been exposed to this type of introduction before by any teacher.

Fred Barnes (right) Circa 1960 Calhounian Yearbook

His delivery was like a drill sergeant barking out orders to new recruits. We were intimidated by his rapid fire staccato voice, sternness and the way he projected himself. Total bewilderment swept across our faces as we had only been in his class for a few minutes.

Just as we started to breathe again, he continued, “We will have three major tests this semester and you can expect “pop quizzes” at any time so you should always be prepared when you come to my class. We have much material to cover and it is your responsibility to keep up. I would encourage you to speak up if you have any questions.

My thinking is that there are no dumb questions, just people who are afraid they will appear to be dumb by asking them. So, speak up or be left behind. You either understand the process or you don’t. You must understand the process in order to achieve a passing grade in my class.”

I remember that he spent the remainder of that first day talking about Biology as a natural science and that we would be collecting insects and flowers during the course of the school year. Mr. Barnes stated that he had been influenced greatly by Dr. Max Ward to pursue a degree in Biology.

He said Dr. Ward was a former teacher at Calhoun High and now a professor at Glenville State College. Finally, Mr. Barnes held up the text book we needed and said they were available at the bookstore or we could buy used books from those who completed the class last year.

But, he warned, the book was only for reference as he had his own material that he would be presenting to the class. When the bell rang ending third period, we marched off to the cafeteria for lunch wondering if we would survive his class.

After several days, Mr. Barnes saw our willingness to work and study and his hard edge faded away. We soon looked forward to each day of class because his classes were never dull.

He never stood still, always moving about the room forcing us to twist around and turn our heads to follow him. Often he would stop suddenly and ask a student what he or she thought about a particular point. There was a constant air of excitement and tension in the room because no one knew who would be called upon next.

Over the next nine months we students learned many things in Mr. Barnes’ class. We learned the course work a chapter at a time. We learned about trees and the nutrients needed from the soil. Xylem up and phloem down still resonates with me even today. Photosynthesis was discussed repeatedly to the point that we could discuss in detail the entire process.

We learned to identify leaves by shape and terms such as pinately parallel and palmately parallel made us more aware of the exquisiteness of nature. We studied and counted growth rings and learned how trees had good years and poor years by measuring the spaces between the rings.

We were required to learn all the bones in the human body. We drew skeletons on large sheets of paper stock and we labelled every bone with the common and scientific name. We learned about the human vascular system and the various organs of the body.

He taught us about cell division and how it related to the aging process that, in time, each of us would experience. I remember he told us that we were all unique in certain ways and we had only one body given us. It was up to us to take care of it by eating properly, getting exercise and enough rest.

To this day I still remember the pearls of wisdom dropped on us by Mr. Barnes. Often as the class period was ending, he would allow us to close our books and relax.

He would spend a few moments reflecting on his own life experiences and would occasionally share them with us. He recalled days of his boyhood and the hard times he experienced.

He talked of his determination to get an education and how he had pulled himself up by his bootstraps. He said he had learned a few things the hard way over the years and life itself would teach us quite a lot in time.

In humor tinged with seriousness, I remember him saying that the way to a long life was for us to keep our mouths shut and our bowels open.

He told us never to jump at streetcars or conclusions. His matter-of-fact no bull approach to teaching made a distinct impression on me.

I still remember the excitement of his “pop quizzes.” Just as we were entering his classroom, we would hear him say, ”Question number one.” He would repeat it three times as we scurried around trying to find pencil and paper and maintain our composure.

He taught us so much more than Biology. For example, he counselled us boys to have respect for the girls in school. He said that he had been a boy once, and he understood our urges.

But, he said we should treat young women like we would want our sisters to be treated. He would tell us that personal hygiene was very important and that cleanliness was a habit to be cultivated. He told us that social skills needed to be practiced and were just as important as technical skills.

Mr. Barnes was well respected in his field and knowledge flowed from him like water from a spring.

Glenville State College sent many student teachers his way. I remember that Marvin Stemple was one of the student teachers assigned to our class that year. Mr. Stemple went on to establish himself as a well-respected teacher in the Calhoun School system, among others, following in the steps of Dr. Max Ward and Mr. Barnes.

Mr. Barnes was a veteran of the Second World War. He served in Headquarters Company, Second Battalion, 351st Infantry in the North African and the European theaters earning several medals. He was part of a 35 man group that came under heavy fire and only 3 survived. When the war ended, he was at the Brenner Pass.

When I think about the time I spent at the old Calhoun High School, I always remember Mr. Barnes and his classroom on the second floor. I remember my insect collection and my flower collection. My mother threw out the insects after a few months, but we kept the flower collection for many years.

Fred Barnes prepared many of us for the rigors of college by being rather demanding.

His dedication and passion for teaching resulted in many of his students becoming inspired and successful in their life’s work. For me personally, his drive and personality impressed me to such a degree that I stopped being a slacker.

I saw my studies in a different light and started to see value in hard work. I realize now that I am a better man for having known him.


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