Vol. 7: Sandra Brown
Sandra Brown: 40 Years of Keeping Holland Hall Children Safe, Loved, and Respected.
“Holland Hall seeks a passionate, committed educator who is energized by work with students...The candidate must be highly skilled in designing, articulating, and implementing dynamic and innovative learning practices...Desirable candidates must be willing to work in a team environment, have a deep respect for children and families, and be positive and student-centered.”This recent Holland Hall Primary School job posting could have been shortened to read, “Wanted: Sandra Brown.” Two generations of Holland Hall students — and their parents — had the great fortune to be taught by Mrs. Brown during her 40-year career at Holland Hall. After teaching 3rd grade for 25 years and 1st grade for 15 years, Sandra retired in 2013.Known as a skilled and passionate teacher and a warm-hearted and trusted co-worker, Sandra is remembered and celebrated for always going far beyond expectations: Dressing up in costume to bring book characters to life. Attending the after-school athletic contests, recitals, and religious rites of passage of her students. Sending Mother’s Day and Father’s Day cards to the parents of her students, and continuing to do so for years after she taught their children.
To be a student or parent in Sandra’s sphere of influence was to enjoy the countless gifts of her teaching philosophy. “Teacher education courses in the late 60s and early 70s emphasized relevant research on the teaching-learning process,” said Sandra. “Yet, beyond competencies, beyond teaching methods, beyond sheer intellect, I felt like my main job was to keep children safe, loved, and respected. It was always important to make a connection with the special gift within each child.”A native Tulsan, Sandra married her Edison High School sweetheart, Don, and had two sons, Spencer and Alex. After teaching for two years in St. Louis, Sandra and Don moved back to Tulsa and in 1973 Sandra applied for a Holland Hall teaching position at the urging of her mother-in-law, Mary Lois Brown, who had taught in the Middle School for a brief time.The rest is history. (And reading and science and math!). Forty years is a long career on which to reflect, and Sandra credits her early mentors, Holland Hall legends Sue Lawson and Nancy Foote, for helping provide a smooth entry into the Primary School and establishing the foundation for her tremendous career. She also was able to draw inspiration from her own 1st-grade teacher, Betty Hobson, now 90 years old. “Miss Betty sparked my desire to become an elementary school teacher and became my inspiration,” Sandra said. The two lifelong educators live in the same neighborhood and still have lunch together regularly.Being a full-time teacher with small children was sometimes a challenge, and Sandra says her main source of support came from her husband. “Mr. Brown, as I affectionately referred to my husband, was my main support,” she said. “He helped with early-morning school preparations with our boys, the school events and activities, all the homework. And at the end of the day he listened to me as I shared my teaching day, both the exciting things and my concerns.” Don Brown passed away in 2011.Sandra says that the most rewarding thing about teaching at Holland Hall was building lifelong relationships with colleagues, parents, and, of course, with students. She said, “It’s so hard to put into words a rewarding teaching career — the fulfillment, inspiration, and lifetime friendships. I feel so fortunate and thank my lucky stars for the privilege of teaching in the Primary School for most of my career.”In retirement, Sandra enjoys spending time with family, especially her three grandsons, whom she calls her “pride and joy.” She is also proud that education continues to run deep in the Brown family. Son Spencer, a 1990 Holland Hall graduate, is a 4th-generation teacher from the Brown family, and son Alex is married to a teacher. Sandra is still making a difference in the lives of children, volunteering with organizations like Emergency Infant Services and New Hope Oklahoma, an after-school literacy program. She remains a vital part of the Holland Hall community, lending her wisdom and insight as a member of the Holland Hall Board of Visitors. A great educator and even better person, Sandra continues to bring smiles and improve lives all across the Holland Hall and Tulsa communities.
An Interview with Sandra Brown.
Recently, one of the students in Sandra Brown’s first Holland Hall 3rd-grade class was able to sit down and ask her some questions about the experiences and memories of her 40-year teaching career at Holland Hall. Michaele McKinney Tetrick ’83 came to Holland Hall as a 2nd-grader in 1972 and went on to graduate in 1983. She graduated from the University of Arkansas and now works with husband Jeff at their company, Lektron Lighting, and assists as a substitute teacher in the Primary School. Michaele’s sons Gentry Wilburn ’12 and Ty Tetrick ’20 are Holland Hall lifers who both had Mrs. Brown as their 1st-grade teacher.Michaele Tetrick (MT): I don’t have a great memory of the Birmingham campus, but my 3rd-grade classroom I remember so clearly. That was your first year?Sandra Brown (SB): Yes, in 1973. My husband and I came from St. Louis and (our son) Spencer was two years old.MT: Do you remember much about your first year?SB: Well, we had a team teaching approach. There were three teachers in an “open concept” classroom… a large open area with a few areas partitioned off. Mrs. Bullard and Mrs. Maxeiner were also there.MT: Was that the beginning team?SB: Yes, that was the team. We did a rotation of language arts, math, and social studies. The class size was about the same, 18-20 per class, 60 total. We ate lunch family style at the tables. That might have been the last year that they did that.MT: I found two pictures from my 3rd-grade year, both of the Land Run. That has to have been such a fun experience.SB: Oh yes! Students would say, “That day I was really transformed. I felt like we were really there, out on the prairie.” We read a book called Miss Charity Comes to Stay and we’d have Middle and Upper School teachers dress up like characters from the book and come to the “pioneer school” we set up in the classroom. Even Charlie Brown came dressed as a peddler!MT: How many years were you in 3rd and how many in 1st?SB: 25 years in 3rd and 15 years in 1stMT: Were you happy to move from 3rd to 1st? I would think that would have been a challenge after so many years teaching 3rd grade.SB: It was. And I guess the people who really helped me the most were Nancy Foote, who taught 1st grade, and then Betty Hobson--Miss Betty--MY 1st-grade teacher, who I’m still in touch with. She just turned 90! We have been close, I talk to her all the time. She really helped me make that transition. Later people would ask if I’d want to go back to 3rd and I’d say, “Oh, I don’t know. I really have a soft place in my heart for the beginning reader.” For me, both in 3rd and in 1st, literature was really the hook. You’d be able to talk about the characters, teach about prediction, and things like that. Former students always say that they can absolutely remember the books they read.MT: Do you see any differences between children in the 70s and then 40 years later?SB: Of course, technology has changed everything. Pretty much everyone back then was involved in after-school scouts, Brownies, Bluebirds, sports, activities. Oh, and we had a talent show. David Rollo helped with that!MT: I’ve observed from subbing in the 3rd-grade classroom recently that the kids seem so grown up.SB: Yes, very mature. In the 1970s, recess was just play, imaginary play, very unorganized.MT: Well, the playground equipment (at the Birmingham campus) was pretty sparse back then. We had the half-dome thing you could climb on, monkey bars, maybe a seesaw.SB: Yes, that’s right!MT: What’s great (about your retirement) is that you have found something that you are passionate about. So what are you doing at Emergency Infant Services? What’s your role?SB: I work in the boutique helping families choose clothes. I also get to hold the babies and play with the toddlers. And then what’s fun is that the older children — when they’re not in school, in the summer — can choose three books. It’s mostly just getting to be with children and that part, I love.MT: Did you just love being a teacher?SB: I wanted to be a teacher from the day I was born.