December 22, 2006
An impressionable seventh grader sits in a Park Avenue School classroom in Milan, Tenn. She diagrams sentences as she has been skillfully taught by Mr. Ralph Holt, who also coaches. Mr. Holt instills in the young pupil an appreciation for the intricacies of her native language.
Fast forward to 2002. Chris Crider is making a successful run for the Tennessee House of Representatives. In a speech outlining his pro-education platform, the Republican from Milan recalls the influence of that pupil of Mr. Holt’s, herself now a 10th-grade English teacher at Milan High School.
“Something I guess I’ll never forget is, when in high school there was no money for our academic decathlon team, and our teacher, Mrs. Kay Flippo, used her own money for books, gas, educational videos, etc. She would be at the school on Saturdays to work with us or take us to competitions,” Crider was quoted as saying in the Humboldt Chronicle.
“I really think it was my seventh grade English teacher Ralph Holt, who also was a coach at Park Avenue School, who influenced me to become a teacher,” said Flippo. I think he loved English and he encouraged us to learn the language the best that we could. We diagramed sentences just about every day.”
Holt, Flippo said, had high expectations of his students.
“I think I do have high expectations of my students as well,” said Flippo, who makes a habit of engaging her students in conversations in class in an effort to help them become problem solvers."
At times, she will ask students their opinion of a piece of literature and then will challenge their feedback. Other times, she’ll throw out an opinion and see how the students respond.
“I think the rewarding part of teaching, first of all, is when the students will disagree with me,” she said. “That shows me they are thinking and that’s really my job. I absolutely love that.”
Flippo wants her students to do more than have a glancing familiarity with what they are reading.
“We write a lot and discuss whatever topics come up in relation to that particular selection,” Flippo said. “Another thing that makes me happy is when they make connections. Many times, I’ll disagree with them to make them defend their opinion. I rarely offer my own opinion, but I’ll state an opinion and hope they will disagree with it. They don’t always disagree, but we have a lot of good discussions.”
Before every selection, Flippo will provide a set of questions for consideration, giving the students something to think about as they read the literature. She also employs the arts.
“I also use a lot of art and music – whatever I think will go along with the selection,” she said. “I’ll show a painting and ask them to write a response to it. We’ll listen to music while writing.”
While the students’ input is expected, it’s not always easy.
“They think things get pretty tough sometimes,” Flippo said. “I try to keep it open and let them feel free to have their opinions. I may question where their opinion came from.”
Flippo found her way from Milan, near Jackson, Tenn., to Bison Hill in the 1960s.
A time of turmoil for most of the world, Flippo spent part of those questioning years singing. She was a member of the Bisonettes from the time she first arrived.
Having heard of OBU from her church’s minister of music, she came to Shawnee with a music scholarship.
“Being in the Bisonettes was great. I enjoyed Mary Kay Higginbotham (Parrish) and Jack Pearson,” said Flippo. “Even after I left OBU, whenever the Bisonette Glee Club was on tour nearby I was always sure to go.”
Flippo was a music education major before switching to English, still influenced by her seventh-grade teacher.
“At OBU there was a standard of excellence that inspired every student to do his or her best,” Flippo said. “There was just that quality. I found that to be true in all of my classes.”
After two years, she returned to Tennessee and eventually graduated from Union University, where she currently teaches as an adjunct instructor in world literature. She received her master’s degree in education from the University of Memphis.
While she spends most of her days broadening the minds of her students, she also clings to the value of a continuous education. Flippo finds that education in travel.
“I do love to travel,” she said. “I’ve been to England three times, Paris twice, Scotland, Italy and Switzerland. I’ve been to performances at the Globe Theatre in London.”
But since 1981, Milan has been her only home.
“It’s fine because Milan is a nice little town and this is a nice school system,” said Flippo. “We have 650 students in Milan. Everybody knows every one.”
And everyone in 10th grade English knows how everyone thinks, as well.