I found Mr. Parker. He was my favorite high school teacher, and I’ve been searching for him. I wanted to say thanks. But I hadn’t seen him for over fifty years, and I was afraid it might be too late. Once I thought I found his telephone number. But the gravelly voice on the answering machine never called back. So I was losing hope.
Then Carla, my high school friend, gave me a tip.
“Did you know,” she asked, “that his wife was the co-creator of Barney?”
I hadn’t known, but this was the lead I needed. I discovered that Kathy O’Rourke Parker was a co-creator of Barney and Friends. And she had a husband named Philip Parker who was a math teacher and who had, besides, written more than 100 songs for the Barney television series. They lived in Texas.
I found this photo of the Parkers posing with Barney and Friends products. And I could see that this was, for sure, my high school geometry teacher.
I also found the photo below showing Kathy and Philip Parker at a Smithsonian ceremony. They were joined by “Jeopardy!” game show host Alex Trebek and “All My Children” actress Susan Lucci. They had all gathered to contribute artifacts from daytime television to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
Fascinating! But I still hadn’t found Mr. Parker. So I typed into Google what I should have tried first: Phillip Parker math. And I found a website for a math consultant named Philip Parker, who lived in Texas. His resume said he had taught high school math in Flint, Michigan, for 24 years. I clicked on the Contact tab, and found an email address.
“I think I was your student once,” I wrote, “back at Bendle High School in Flint, Michigan.”
Two days later, he wrote back.
“Phyllis!!! Oh my goodness. Yes, you have successfully reached me!! And I absolutely remember you. Your email about knocked me off my feet!”
Mr. Parker gave me a 30-second version of his life. He had been married for 40 years and had two children. He had left teaching several times, once to write Barney songs, which, as he said, “kids loved and parents hated.” But each time he left teaching, he found himself drawn back to it.
“Teaching still excites me to this day,” he wrote, “even though I’m just tutoring.”
He thanked me for getting in touch. And then he gave me some wisdom:
“What you’ve said confirms to me what I always tell young teachers—that is, that after your students graduate, they will likely not remember much of the specific content you taught them—but they will remember whether or not you treated them with respect and dignity. And they’ll remember things about you that you never were even consciously aware of.”
And then, in typical Mr. Parker fashion, he ended with some encouragement.
“Congratulations on your 30-year teaching career. I know you’ve touched many lives—and don’t be surprised if 20 years from now you hear from one (or more) of them!”
Thank you, Mr. Parker!