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A Look Back at life of F. E. Burleson

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, education at all levels has been converted to at-home and online.  

The mission of the educator, whether for the first grade or at the doctoral level, becomes one of assisting his or her students to complete lessons prepared in advance. The relationship between teacher and student is thus greatly weakened.   

Many highly talented young men and women who had aspired to be teachers might decide this occupational calling is not for them after all.  

One man who entered the teaching profession in the early years of the 20th century influenced thousands in the most positive way over a period of many years: F. E. Burleson. 

Nov. 8, 1896—Another son has been born to John O. Burleson Sr., and Mary Josephine (Josie) Burleson. They have named the new addition to their growing family Forrest Emory. 

Sept. 1, 1903—Forrest, the 8-year-old son of John and Josie Burleson, has been enrolled in school by his parents. Forrest is oriented toward the out of doors, and his elders will be observing to see how he adapts to “book learning” when he can no longer spend each day roaming the hills and orchards near his home (when he is not doing work prescribed by his father).  His parents are not envious of the teachers who will have to use all of their skill to get Forrest to be still in class.  

Forrest later recalled that his grandfather, Dabney Adair Burleson, offered him a quarter if he could sit still for five minutes.  He wasn’t able to recall that he ever collected the quarter, however. 

Forrest’s school day begins at 8 a.m. and ends at 4 p.m.  The classes at the Priceville school are taught by one teacher, who must instruct his pupils according to their appropriate grade.  Forrest recalled that he and his fellow pupils sat on benches that were simply planks nailed together.  As an intelligent boy, Forrest found the teacher’s lessons boring  “uninteresting and taught without inspiration or imagination,” he said.  Sometimes the teacher was finished with his lessons by 3 p.m., but the pupils were required to remain in their seats in the poorlyheated schoolhouse until 4 p.m.   

Ironically, the Burleson family had been paying the teachers for a century. They could never find one as good as their son would become, however.  

All teachers had to pass an examination given by the State of Alabama certifying their eligibility to teach.   

Forrest said that his determination to be a teacher himself was not diminished by the poor instruction he received; if anything, it was strengthened. He vowed that when he began teaching, the pupils’ time would not be wasted, and the lessons would be interesting. At recess, he would play with them and teach them how to play football, baseball and moreWhen the lessons were completed, the pupils would go back home. 

Sept. 1, 1914—Forrest Burleson, now in his mid-teens, is currently a student in the still new Morgan County High School, where J. H. Riddle is the principal as well as a classroom teacher.  Mr. Burleson later said, “The major influence on my future career was Professor J. H. Riddle, who was strong, stern and kind, always demanding devotion to your tasks.”  

Professor Riddle reinforced what Mr. Burleson had learned at home about work, commenting that “One who won’t work is not worth the salt in his bread.” 

A substantial amount of the information in this column was supplied by Hartselle historian David Burleson, son of ‘Fessor Burleson; however, I take full responsibility for any mistakes not caught in the editing process.  Some dates given are approximations.