Professor Emeritus of Education Raymond Bridgers Jr. readily admits that if someone had told him as a high school student that he would become a teacher, he would have laughed. “School was not a particularly happy place for me,” he says. But once he started teaching, Bridgers came to love the classroom.
“I literally enjoyed going to work every day, walking into the classroom,” he says, his voice brimming with excitement. “I hope the students enjoyed it as much as I did.”
With a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and a master’s in elementary education, both from the College of William and Mary, and a doctorate of education from Duke University in curriculum and instruction, Bridgers decided to teach school “until I decided what to do.”
He found he loved it, and wanting more classroom experience decided to take an opening at Oswego’s Campus School. He told the college he would stay only three years – he wanted to experience a northern climate. Their first night on campus, he and his wife, Carolyn, watched gentle, fluffy snowflakes fall against a streetlight outside their house window, and Bridgers thought it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. The wonder he felt must have changed his plans, because he spent his entire career at Oswego.
“I feel fortunate to have spent 35 years at Oswego,” he says.
Although he spent his early career teaching ninth-graders and serving as a principal in Virginia, he found he loved the middle grades the most. “I liked the creativity of the junior high student. Their intellectual capacity was always exciting and interesting,’ he says.
After seven years in the Campus School, he taught in what is now Oswego’s School of Education.
“One of the main things I used to tell [students] was, ‘The most important thing you carry into the classroom is not your knowledge of physics, languages, etc. It’s you as a person and how you help those kids explore life,’”
Bridgers developed two courses at Oswego: “Teaching Culturally Different Children” – his basic theme was we’re all culturally different – and “Play and Playfulness,” about the importance of play in the lives of the young and old.
Bridgers always tried to learn students’ names from the first day in the classroom, and he refreshed the courses by periodically throwing away all his notes and developing his lectures anew.
He became a familiar figure on campus, with his boisterous laugh and fringed leather jacket. An avid runner, he completed several marathons. He served as adviser to Kappa Delta Pi (which he had served as president at Duke and William and Mary) and the sorority Alpha Sigma Chi. A member of Phi Delta Kappa education honorary, he received a federal fellowship in 1968-69.
In retirement, he loves spending time with his family, including Carolyn ’78 and their six children (Cynthia, Michael, Bradley M ’05, Katherine, Holly and Lori ’87), 12 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren.
He also enjoys making stained glass, a skill he learned at Oswego to craft doors for his kitchen cabinets and taught for several years at the Art Association of Oswego.
And while he enjoys retirement with his typical gusto, he still professes his love for Oswego and its students, saying, “If I had my druthers, I would have stayed and taught until they threw me out.”
Ed. Note: We are saddened to report that Dr. Bridgers passed away Feb. 21. This story is published posthumously with the permission of his family.
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