Decades Later, Sixth Grade Teachers Celebrated by Former Students

After that first year of teaching, students shake your hand and some of the girls give you a hug, James Baker said.

“Then it hits you: those are your kids, and it hits you as you witnessed today. We carry that with us and it’s a beautiful, beautiful inner feeling that we have. You’re not just a client. You become a part of us as we have become a part of you,” he said.

Decades after teaching sixth grade, Baker joined Ralph Graves and William Knapp Saturday at Coco’s Bakery & Restaurant in the 5500 block of Lake Murray Boulevard to reminisce and receive honors from more than 20 former Forward Elementary School students.

The trio taught at the school formerly located in the 6400 block of Boulder Lake Avenue near La Mesa during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

Ted Williams had classes with Baker and Knapp and remembers talent shows, sixth grade camp and a mock trial complete with bailiff, judge, attorney, jury and later visit a real courtroom. Williams was a witness.

“There were just a lot of wonderful memories. They’re men of integrity, as you can tell, and they loved us,” he said. “They were like extended family.”

The get together was organized by San Carlos Survivors, a group that organizes reunions for former classmates in the area.


“We have this comradery in San Carlos and it all stems from our roots,” said Tamra Mendoza-Mode, who helped organize the event.

The word is reciprocity, Baker said.

“Look at the product we work with. The carpenter deals with hammers and nails and such things as that. The painter with brushes and paint. A librarian works with books. But look at the product we work with. We are privileged to have worked with you and this is marvelous,” he said.

“Thank you for liking us,” said Julie Rose. “When you’re in the sixth grade not a lot of people really like you. Every one of you said the thing that you like most about teaching is kids and we appreciated that because we needed someone to like us in sixth grade.”

After a quick celebration of Graves’ 89th birthday, former students  gave the three men framed pictures of them taken all those years ago, sang the theme song of To Sir, With Love and gave them old style composition books, the kind old pupils used to use, now full of notes from their former students.

Four of Knapp’s six children grew up to become teachers.

“It’s overwhelming,” Knapp said through tears. "Teaching was my life. I don’t know what to say after 33 years of teaching. It’s so good to see these people when they were so young and to see them again and how successful they are. Maybe I helped them."

Which grade school teachers stand out in your mind? Who were your favorites and why?

Nancy Mcclain December 10, 2013 at 01:52 PM
Thank you very much to all the former students for the incredible events last Sat, Dec 07 honoring these three great teachers. My father, Ralph Graves, was totally thrilled. He is still sharing the events with friends and family. You have created a lifetime memory for him. Thank you! Celeste and Tamra, you are the BEST!!!!! Nancy Graves
Diane Howard December 11, 2013 at 01:13 AM
Nancy, Your father, Mr. Knapp and Mr. Baker helped create a lifetime of memories for we former students as well. I am grateful that there are people like our former teachers and Celeste and Tamara that made our reunion happen. As a former student I think I can speak for everyone when I say that we often wonder about them as much as they may wonder about their former students.
Evie Ramseier December 11, 2013 at 09:39 PM
I wish I would have known about this celebration. I had both Mr. Knapp and Mr. Graves and my sister Kelli had Mr. Baker. Nancy, your father was very inspiring to me. I remember being on the bus during the time Pink Floyd came out with that song that said, " Hey teacher leave us kids alone!" and you could tell he hated that song. We weren't rebellious then, that happened at Pershing! Please tell him I said Hello. I was the president of the Student Council in 1980 and I still absolutely hate public speaking. But I did grow up to be an airline pilot and am married with 2 little boys. What a great celebration of deserving teachers, Evie ( Ambrose) Ramseier


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