WILDER'S WHOLE WORLD: My favorite teacher

By Dwayne Wilder
Special to the Herald Democrat

We all have one: that incredible music teacher from elementary school; and mine was Lottie Porter.

Coming into the school district late (Third Grade) put me at a disadvantage. I needed all the help I could get to fit in and be a productive student at Jefferson Intermediate School in the late 1960s. One of the people who helped me do that was ‘Mrs. Porter.’ She took class after class through the music world with a smile on her face and a love of learning and music; and she did it day after day. I don’t remember a bad day when Mrs. Porter was in it.

She introduced us to the autoharp, the tonette and music of all kinds. We sang as a group almost every day. We did solos; played the instruments in groups; and generally had a great time with music. It was a special time of day; and it was all because of Mrs. Porter.

As our class moved to Fred Douglass School for one year to make the transition to the middle school concept in the district, Mrs. Porter followed us there. I remember that year because it was a time of musical awakening for us ‘twelve year olds.’ We heard the popular music on the radio; and could even start buying records at the store. This concept didn’t get passed our music teacher.

Many weeks of that year we studied the ‘Pop’ music of that era: “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers, “What the World Needs Now” by Jackie DeShannon and “Walk on By” by Dionne Warwick. We gathered on the risers to sing those songs – the ones that were on the radio! – and that was so cool. I felt that Mrs. Porter was ‘with it.’ And all she was doing was showing us that music is music whatever the type. But we were just so happy to be singing the songs of the times right there in school; it was only later that I realized what she was doing. Back then, she was just playing the piano and conducting us.

And she would sing along with us, too! I can’t tell you how that makes a sixth grader feel unless you’ve lived it. The teacher was participating with us; she was one of us in that moment. We felt included in the world if only for a short time by a respected adult. She engaged us and took the time and effort to be there with us. If that’s not a ‘teacher,’ I don’t know what it.

I remember back at Jefferson when Mrs. Porter put on the best shows—three or four every year. The Christmas ones were the best. I was chosen to play the tonette in a group of five students in front of the choir one year. I had no idea how to play “Angels We Have Heard On High,” but Mrs. Porter believed in me and knew I would get it before the show date. Somehow I did; and was so proud! That’s the kind of confidence Mrs. Porter instilled in you if you were lucky enough to have her for a teacher.

But don’t take my word for it. Mrs. Porter was not only beloved by her students, but colleagues as well.

“She was just so sweet,” said Donietta Morris, longtime SISD choir director. “I was at Dillingham (Intermediate School) when she was at Piner (Middle School). She had a wonderful sense of humor; and a great teacher.”

Morris recalled that Mrs. Porter played the piano for Morris’ UIL participants in the annual competition.

“She was such a gifted pianist; she always played for us,” remembered Morris. “I loved teaching with her over the years.”

According to Morris, Lottie Porter commanded the classroom in addition to building budding singers.

“She had this attitude that you were going to be kind to one another in her classroom; and listen and learn,” smiled Morris. “She always wore high heels and had those big glasses; she was always laughing and joyous, but she meant business. She was just great.”

And there were other students who remember that influential music teacher from their childhood.

“I remember her well,” said Deborah Key-Ackley, another Jefferson student of the late 1960s. “Mrs. Porter was a great teacher. She taught us that no matter what, if you tried hard enough, you would succeed.”

Key-Ackley, who was also in Porter’s choir class at Piner from 1972-74, added that even though Mrs. Porter ‘demanded respect,’ she also taught that students ‘could do anything’ in life if they worked for it.

“My life has been based on this concept that I learned from her,” said Key-Ackley. “I owe it all to her.”

Sonja Wilson-Williams was an elementary student of Mrs. Porter’s as well. She was more than just a student as she was her neighbor, too. They lived on the same street during those years.

“Mrs. Porter was very straight forward with her communication with you,” recalled Wilson-Williams. “I believe that her directions instilled in me to believe I could do anything I set my mind to do.”

Wilson-Williams, who now lives in Dallas, fondly remembers learning to play that ‘recorder’ like instrument, the tonette, as well with Mrs. Porter.

“The best part is we all learned to play the tonette,” she smiled. “I really loved how she was very caring for all of her students. I truly loved her.”

In addition to being a strong teacher and musician, Key-Ackley added that Mrs. Porter was something else in addition.

“She was a great role model for students,” she recited. “I can see her now. I can remember this short woman and her big glasses walking around the room encouraging us; and singing with us and conducting us. She made you a better person.”

Personally, Key-Ackley noted that she ‘felt so comfortable’ in Porter’s classroom.

“She just touched my heart,” she concluded. “I just love Mrs. Porter.”

And I do, too! 

Dwayne Wilder

Dwayne Wilder is a Sherman native who currently lives in Denison. Wilder’s Whole World is his commentary about life in Texoma and the world. Wilder can be reached at cmandad17@gmail.com. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group.