Williston Ninth Grade Center: Ms. Gooden


2021 marks fifty years since cross-town busing began in Wilmington, NC. That spring, those of us in the eighth grade at Roland Grice Junior High, left school thinking about the fall. Having paid our dues as seventh and eighth graders, were ready to be “king of the hill” as ninth graders. However, due to court rulings that few of us understood, things changed that summer. Instead of staying at Roland Grice, we were bused across town to the former African American high school, Williston. Each school, instead of drawing on the neighborhood makeup, was to be 70% white, 30% black, which was the county make-up at the time. Racial tensions were high that fall as 9th graders from three formerly Junior High Schools (Williston—which had become a Jr. High after it stopped being a High School, along with Sunset Park and Roland Grice) were merged into one school. While I am not sure I learned much in class that year, I learned a lot about life. This is one of my stories (which I wrote many years ago and have edited it for this blog post). 

Photo take in 2010 (the blinds in the 2nd story classes look in better shape than they were in 1971).

4th Period

Walking into my fourth period class at Williston Ninth Grade Center, I couldn’t believe my eyes. A new girl sat in a desk to right of me, in the back corner by the window. A blonde, nicely dressed as if trying to impress her classmates on her first day at school, she smiled. Stumbling for words, I introduced myself and welcomed her to my corner. I attempted to impress her by telling a few things that went on in the back of the class. Then Mike, who also sat in the corner, took his place, and joined the conversation. We were in competition, each vying for the new girl’s attention. We tried to outdo the other with our stories. She smiled, even blushed a bit. So intent we were to impress, we didn’t give her time to say anything. The bell rang, the teacher stepped up to the front, class began, and reality sat in.

Our latest test was returned. I quickly took mine and put it under some other papers, shielding it from the new girl. “She looks smart and wouldn’t be impressed with my grade,” I thought. We reviewed the test, and I saw where I’d made my mistakes in calculations. Then she handed out our report cards. Again, I snatched the card quickly and stuck it in a book. The new girl was the one person other than my parents that I didn’t want to see my grades. I promised myself I’d study harder and do all my homework this next term. She deserved such sacrifices.

As the class wound down, I tried to think of a good line to use after the bell, as we herded down the hall to the cafeteria. But a few minutes before the bell, the principal, Mr. Howie, stepped in. He’d never been in this class, and I thought this was strange as we’d been well behaved that day. Politely, our teacher yielded to the floor to Mr. Howie. He informed us that our teacher was being promoted to an assistant principal. At his clue, we clapped. None of us were sure what this meant. By this point in my academic career, assistant principals weren’t on my radar. I was the type of kid who bypassed the assistant’s office and head straight to the big guy’s door. After only six weeks at Williston, Howie and I were on a first name bases.

A new teacher

After giving accolades to our teacher, the principal, as if he was introducing a political candidate, said it gave him great pleasure to introduce our new teacher. Then turning to the back corner, he said, “Ms. Gooden, will you stand.” 

The new girl in the class stood and stepped forward. Mike and I slid under our respective desks. I swear, as she introduced herself to the class, she smirked every time she looked over our way. This was going to be a long year.

Like most schoolboys, there had been a few teachers who, because of their looks or kindness, had encouraged my fantasies. Miss Freeman, my fourth-grade teacher once brought me a Coke. I was a cheap date and impressed. And then there was a seventh-grade math teacher who had ten dresses and I could tell the day of the week by her dress. Of course, two of these dresses were quite short and showed lots of leg. Yet, fantasies about these teachers remained where they belonged, deep in my psyche. I never said anything inappropriate. But now I found myself with a new teacher who was beautiful, and I’d already played my cards to impress her to be mine. 

Ms. Gooden was fresh from college. She was probably twenty-two but could have easily passed for fifteen. I’m sure if she went out for a drink, the waitress would have carded her. And now she knew who, in her class, to keep an eye on. 

Her fiancé

Perhaps to make the point that she was no “Mrs. Robinson,” Ms Gooden fiancé drop by one day. A Marine officer, he stood at attention in the front of the class, decked out in his dress uniform. On his side was an engraved sword that said to me, “hands off my girl.” As he greeted us, he kept looking over at my corner. I’m sure he knew all about us. 

More to come…

I should say that nothing ever happened, but that wouldn’t be quite true. Certainly nothing romantically happened, but there were adventures to come in this fourth period class. I’m sure nothing in Ms. Gooden’s teacher training prepared her to have a class like ours at such a time in history. 

20 Replies to “Williston Ninth Grade Center: Ms. Gooden”

  1. Oh, my goodness. this is such a sweet/funny/endearing memory to share! She sounds like a delightful teacher. I did adore my grade 7 teacher who was a man. I had so many female teachers, I recall being quite pleased with a male influence. He was wonderful besides. All of us loved him.

  2. I didn’t have a crush on a teacher until summer school in college, and I ended up dating him for a few months (after I left his class). He as 10 years older than I. I really liked him, but he left our area to teach at UConn, and we stayed in touch for a while. Then I wrote to say I was getting engaged, and our communication stopped.

    After my mom died, and I was cleaning out her house, I found a letter he had sent me about a year later. I wish I had seen it when he sent it, but Mom hid it and never told me he had written. Who knows what might have happened???

  3. Fantastic story! I can certainly relate to it. I had a massive crush on my literature teacher in Year 9. I even read books I wasn’t meant to read just to impress her. 🙂

    Greetings from London.

  4. What a great story! There was a teacher in my high school that many of the girls fell for and he ended up marrying one of them some years later. (he was my older brother’s age, 12 years my senior) I don’t think I had a crush on a teacher until college.

  5. I loved your story. I remember a few boys in each years class that always gave the teachers a hard time one way or another. I’m so glad I’m not in school anymore. lol

  6. Great story! Truly hilarious that you thought your new teacher was a new girl in class! She was a bit misleading sitting there among you, don’t you think? My high school journalism teacher was also fresh out of college, only a few years older than the students she taught. She ended up being on the short list of people most influential in my life, and we are friends to this day.

    1. I never thought about her being misleading, but she didn’t have time to say anything as we were doing all the talking. There’s a lesson in that–the need to listen

  7. A good time for education in America. Charming story, one I suspect was played out all over the country. Well, not the teacher-hiding-in-the-classroom part! I’ll hold you to the promise of ‘more to come’.

  8. I had a few fresh out of college teachers. I just remember they were always the ones who forced us to do group ‘collaborative’ projects. It must have been the focus in education in the 70’s.

  9. I was reminded of the Van Halen song, “Hot for Teacher”, as I read your post, Jeff.
    I had a crush on my 4th-grade teacher but that was about it. Most of my female teachers were like Ed’s and quite older.

  10. I feel like I missed out on a significant part of my childhood. All of my female teachers were quite old when I was their student. Some inspired me in ways different than your Ms. Gooden but that doesn’t make for an interesting story.

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