Dundalkian Turner retires from teaching after 42 years
Wednesday, 03 April 2013 14:33

Former DMS teacher moving back to Dundalk

by Ben Boehl

    If you attended Dundalk Middle School between 1971 and 2005, there is a good chance that you had Vernon Turner as your social studies teacher.
    Turner left the school in 2005, but he did not retire from teaching. He has spent the last eight years at an alternative school in Prince George’s County, where he finished his career on March 15.
    After 42 years, Turner decided to retire. He wanted to finish the school year, but admitted he was a little burned out and thought it was time to go.

    “I didn’t know if I was able to give it my best. My students said I was, but I didn’t feel like it anymore,” Turner said.
    The 65-year-old was born in Turner Station and graduated from the now-closed Sollers Point High School in 1967.
    As he entered high school, Turner was uncertain about a career after high school. He thought about becoming a police officer or joining the military but realized his calling was in teaching.
    “I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but in 10th grade my history teacher Mr. Johnson inspired me to become a teacher,” Turner added.
    He taught at Dundalk Middle for 34 years before moving to Prince George’s County to take his new job. Now that he is retiring, he plans to move back home to the Dundalk area.
    “All my support group is here. My brothers live in the Baltimore metropolitan area,” Turner said.              “One brother lives in Essex and one lives in Baltimore City. If I need help, my ex-students are here, too.”
    Turner wants to travel across the country to visit Civil War sites and other attractions such as the Rocky Mountains, since he has never been west of the Mississippi River. But he wants to take a break first.
    “I’m going to read and take it easy for a year,” he said.
    Turner was eligible to retire in 2001 but stayed on for a year-to-year basis as part of a state program. When that program was eliminated in 2005, Turner had no job. However; he still had a daughter going to college.
    “I didn’t have a job. I had to scramble around,” Turner explained. That, he said, is how he ended up teaching in Prince George’s County.
    Dundalk High School principal Tom Shouldice held the same post at Dundalk Middle when Turner left the school. Shouldice said Turner left such an impression on the school that they created the Turner Prize in his honor.
    The Turner Prize was  created to recognize a student who embodies Turner’s own best qualities, listed in the prize description as “dedication to school, perseverance through tough times, character of an emboldened person, natural mentor ability for self and others, impressionable and positive action oriented citizen.”
    “Mr. Turner was a very well respected and student-centered teacher. Everyone loved Vernon,” Shouldice noted.
    Turner has fond memories of Dundalk Middle School. He remembers the talent show that he used to run at the school. He said his goal was to educate children while having fun.
     “I thought Dundalk Middle was great. I wanted to come to work and watch the kids grow,” Turner recalled.
    “We made learning fun. We had fun in Dundalk, but we taught them a lot, too.”
    He left an impression on not just his students but other faculty members. Christine Rai taught at Dundalk Middle with him in the early 2000s and said he was an inspiration to everyone at the school.
    “Mr. Turner has a big heart. He always taught the subject area with interest and enthusiasm He was good at enjoying the subject.” Rai said. “He was very good at showing students that he cared about them.
    Rai gave examples of how Turner would go to a troubled student’s house and knock on the door to talk to the parents.
    Rai credits Turner for mentoring her. She said that after she interviewed for her first job at Dundalk Middle School, the principal told her to exit the building from a side door and not the front. Rai was puzzled but went towards the side door.
    As she was ready to leave, she saw Turner sitting outside his classroom. Looking back, Rai believes the principal probably intended that she would walk by Turner and receive his words of encouragement.
    “Mr. Turner made me a promise that if I took the job that he would look out for me, and he did,” Rai said. “That’s why I accepted the job at Dundalk Middle School.”
    Rai and Turner had  a bond and still keep in touch today, even though Rai only worked at Dundalk Middle School for two years.
    “I called him ‘Dad,’ and he called me ‘Daughter,’” Rai said.
    Turner said that Dundalk is a special town where people look each other in the eye when talking.
    “The kids and family stay in Dundalk. We had a long line of people that stayed here for a long time. Their kids had kids and some of those kids now have grandchildren. I don’t like to hear that because it means I’m getting old,” he joked.
    He might be retired, but Turner does not believe he has taught his last class. In addition to traveling, Turner would like to come back to some of the Dundalk schools as a substitute teacher to work on a limited basis.
    He said the key to communicating with students is to understand them.
    “I was able to get kids to talk. I’ve always tried to be a good listener,” Turner said. “Teaching is your life. It’s not just a job.”