Former AMS teacher named to hall of fame

Published 12:02 am Friday, December 14, 2012

Jeanice Kirkland was one of four outstanding educators recently inducted into the inaugural class of the University of Alabama College of Education Educator Hall of Fame.

The late Dr. Harold Bishop, Dr. Paul Hubbert and Dr. Jayne Meyer also were inducted.

Kirkland spent more than 30 years in the classroom in Tuscaloosa, Montgomery, and in Andalusia. She retired from Andalusia Middle School.

The honor is just the latest in a long association with UA.

Asked her first memory of the Capstone, the former president of the National Alumni Association said she was a sixth or seventh grader when her parents, Judge Eris and Mrs. Jean Paul, decided to take the family to a homecoming game and the dance that followed.

“It was for alumni I and students,” she recalled. “I wore what Mother called a party dress. Daddy danced with me, and before I knew what had happened, a college student tapped him on the shoulder and asked to cut in.

“Well, I thought I was the belle of the ball,” she recalled. She later learned that her father had arranged for the student to dance with her. But at the time, “I thought the University was just a heaven, and I never changed my mind.”

When she enrolled as a student, she chose education as a major, as it was one of the few fields really open to women. There was a long tradition of women educators in her family.

“I counted eight or nine females in our family in education,” she said. “Mother being a teacher probably influenced that, too.”

Kirkland earned a degree in elementary education from UA in 1964, and later completed a master’s at Troy University.

During the course of her career, she taught third-, fifth-, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students, including special needs, remedial and gifted students. At the time of desegregation, she volunteered to become one of the first white teachers to teach at an all black school in Montgomery in 1968. More than 40 years later, it still shocks her to think about the conditions in that school.

“They had books, desks and a chalk board,” she said. “I brought a ball from home so the children would have something to play with at recess.”

But the children were sweet and well-behaved, she said, adding that it was good experience.

She said she always told her students, “We’re going to have all Fs in this classroom.”

When that caught their attention, she’d explain that she planned to be fair to everybody; that there would be rules, and she would firmly enforce them; and that if the students cooperated with her on the first two Fs, she’d make sure they had fun.

The Kirklands’ daughter, Kimberly, followed her mother into education.

“She tried her best to do what her daddy wanted her to do and pursue a career in finance,” Kirkland said. “But it wasn’t for her. She has been a wonderful kindergarten teacher.’

Kirkland said she wouldn’t be the least bit disappointed if her granddaughter, now a UA student, chose the same career.

“I never regretted being a teacher,” she said. ”Times have changed, but a lot depends upon the rapport you build up with children.”

She still enjoys bumping into former students and celebrating their successes.

Prior to being named to the hall of fame, Kirkland received numerous honors. She was named most distinguished alumna of UA in 1998. In 1991, she was the recipient of the Outstanding Contribution to Education Award given by the College of Education. She also was named one of the 31 most outstanding women at The University of Alabama as part of a centennial celebration of women being admitted to the University.

Kirkland served as the national president of the University of Alabama Alumni Association, only the second woman in history to be chosen as president.

Her efforts brought one of the largest increases in scholarship funding for students in University history. She also chaired a committee which raised $10 million for UA’s College of Education, and remains active in many other local and university service organizations.