‘I taught them everything’

Published 4:30 pm Friday, June 28, 2024

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WINDSOR – The sound of footsteps down the long hall at Three Rivers Health and Rehabilitation Center was about the only noise heard here on a recent, early summer afternoon.

That quiet environment served as the perfect setting for Janice Fairless Fiske to sit back and reminisce about her near 100 years spent primarily Hertford and Bertie counties. For 43 of those years, Fiske was a fixture in a second grade classroom at Colerain High School (later Colerain Elementary School) where she taught reading, writing, and arithmetic to her young pupils.

According to her daughter, Jan, Mrs. Fiske especially loved teaching her children to read, and a bright red rocking chair stood in the middle of a big colorful rug in a corner of her classroom where the children gathered around her, learning to read stories and exploring the special wonders contained in books.

“I could teach any grade, 1 through 6, but I chose the second grade,” said Fiske, a 1945 graduate of East Carolina Teacher’s College (now East Carolina University) with a degree in Education. “I’ve always taught second grade. I like working with younger students.”

Prior to coming home to northeastern North Carolina, Fiske spent one year teaching in Wilmington.

“They picked four of us in my senior class at college to go and teach in Wilmington at an elementary school. I taught second grade there as well,” she recalled.

While in Wilmington, she met her husband, Russell Fiske, a Chicago native who was a Marine fighter pilot stationed at Cherry Point. He served in the Pacific theater of World War II and also during the Korean War. He retired as a full Colonel in 1980.

The couple married on July 27, 1945 at Janice’s home church in Christian Harbor, located near Harrellsville. They lived with Janice’s parents for a short time before building their house in Colerain. By that time, Mr. Fiske had transferred to the Naval Base in Norfolk, VA.

Fiske called her teaching experience as “wonderful.”

“It was so nice; the children were good learners,” she recalled. “I loved those children as if they were my own.”

When asked if she had the opportunity, would she trade her teaching career for any other profession, Fiske quickly answered, “no….I loved teaching.”

At the outset of her teaching career, there were several buildings on the Colerain campus, to include the high school.

“It was a 1st through 12th grade school back then,” she said.

Fiske recalled the time when Bertie County Schools became integrated. While she couldn’t recall the names of the first Black students she taught, Fiske did speak very highly of Black teachers who came to Colerain.

“Dora Peele was the one I remember the most as she and I became best friends,” Fiske said, adding that Peele also taught second grade.

Fiske was also a fixture at Colerain Baptist Church. There, she taught a Sunday School class for over 30 years. That class consisted of six and seven year-olds, the same age of a second grader.

She also sang in the church choir and was the Director of Vacation Bible School.

“When the doors to the church opened, I was there,” Fiske said.

Fiske was also involved in arranging flowers for weddings and parties. She was known far and wide for her elaborate ribbons.

Additionally, Fiske at one time directed community theater in Colerain, plays held in the auditorium of the old high school.

She also tutored children within their homes.

“I remember one student mother taught who suffered from a brain tumor,” said Jan. “She would go to his house and teach him so he wouldn’t get so far behind before he was finally able to return to school.”

Her gift as a teacher also carried over to older students as Fiske taught adult literacy for many years.”

“We would meet at night at the school,” said Fiske. “I remember one of those adults telling me how proud she was to finally be able to read. You’re never too old to learn.”

“Mother was so creative with her young students,” Jan noted. “You would walk into her classroom and it was an explosion of color. The students were constantly involved with art. They were so full of energy.”

“I gave it everything I had. I loved every moment and I loved those children and I know they loved me,” Fiske stated.

Jan, who teaches dance and creative theater internationally, said her mother’s main focus was to teach her students how to read and write.

“Reading opens your mind,” she stressed. “It’s the avenue from where we all begin our educational journey. Mother was the one who set us on that path. Her students always tested well in reading and math.”

Fiske was so well adapt at teaching math that she was awarded the North Carolina Department of Education Award for Outstanding Teaching in Math.

Russell added that her mother took pride in teaching all subjects over the years and was especially proud of showing her young students how to write in cursive.

“She got quite upset when the public school system did away with the requirement of teaching cursive writing,” said Jan.

Born as Janice Fairless in 1925 in the historical family farmhouse of the Fairless family in the beautiful countryside of Christian Harbor, she was the daughter, and only child, of Hallie Daniels Fairless and Cecil Simeon Fairless.

At the age of five, she began school in Harrellsville where her love of school, learning, and teaching was ignited. At age 14 she was chosen as Health Queen of the 4H Club of Hertford County.

“I was a very good student,” Fiske said of her time at the old Harrellsville High School. “I played basketball and made a lot of hook shots.”

Outside of her teaching duties and her faith-based involvement at Colerain Baptist, Fiske served as a Brownie Scout Leader and enjoyed her time as member of the local Bridge Club.

“She loved to fish in the pond, help her mother in the garden, and tend the land with her husband and father,” said Jan. “She especially loved the watermelon patch and her large flock of beautiful peacocks, who would preen and flirt and open their fans of extraordinary feathers when she joyfully spoke to them in greeting.”

She and her husband enjoyed 67 years of being in love prior to Mr. Fiske passing away in May of 2012.

Now she has fond memories of sharing her vast knowledge with others.

When a person teaches school for nearly 45 years, they surely left a lasting impression on multiple generations.

“It makes me feel mighty good when someone says I made an impact on their lives,” Fiske said. “I taught them everything I knew.”

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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