William L. Powell: Best teacher ever


By Curtis Lee Wilton ('74)

Well, this is a difficult task for me. How can I possibly describe in 500 words or less the man who gave me the skills, drive and enthusiasm to be the very best teacher I could be, and the man who took my work and with a magic twinkle had me reaching the next level. In my 26-year career as a teacher, I have never met a professional educator who is more positive and motivational with students. Sometimes I have wondered if there was anyone in the whole world that could out smile him. While I can only touch the surface, here is my description of the best teacher ever.

William L. Powell was my business education professor at Madison during the 1973–74 academic year. I never discovered what name the initial “L” represented in his name, but I began to think it probably represented “learned” or “learning”. Dr. Powell was also my student adviser, my major professor, my student teaching supervisor, my racquetball opponent and partner, my critic and my cheerleader. Most importantly, he was my friend.

I was an economics undergraduate from Bridgewater College, and I came to Madison to take classes to get my certification. Dr. Powell was my adviser. When I walked into his office for the first time, I was taken by the energy and effort he was expending helping some students who were behind his desk.

When he finished helping them and they were on their way, he smiled at me and said something. I really did not digest what he had said, because I couldn’t get over “the smile” that this guy had. I told him my name and said, “ I believe you are my adviser.” He jumped into some papers with his fingers and found my information. Then through his tremendous grin he said, “Yes, you want to take some business education classes to become a certified, business education teacher?” To which I said, “That’s right; what do we do next?”

Well, the conversation had started, and I think it continued for an hour or more. Dr. Powell seemed to have all the time in the world, and he was suggesting several possibilities to me. Simultaneously, he was referring to requirements for a business education endorsement, the student catalog and my transcript. His brilliance and wit were amazing. Frankly, I was a little confused, but I was absolutely certain that Dr. Powell was interested in my education and how it should move forward.

Well, after an incredible amount of effort on Dr. Powell’s part, he had set me up with the best possible scenario. I would work on a graduate degree in business education with several classes counting as requirements toward my teacher certification.

It was great! This man had just figured out a way for me to get certified and get a master’s degree. Needless to say, I was very happy and impressed with Dr. Powell. That was the beginning of my first year at Madison when I spent time working and studying, going to class, playing racquetball with or against Dr. Powell, and time just talking with him.

He was real. I mean he just would not accept “stuff” from any of his students that would not work in the classroom. There was no fudging. You got it right or he would send you back to the drawing board. Dr. Powell had an extra special talent for tearing my work to pieces and making me feel so good about fixing it up. That’s right, he was always there with that positive reinforcement and that giant smile. How could you not like this guy?

Dr. Powell really did not like the word lecture. He would assign work for my methods and material class in which the term lecture could not be used. He believed strongly that lecturing was the poorest teaching technique in the book. I remember him stressing the point that students needed to be actively involved in the lesson. In other words, students should not just sit and listen to someone lecture.

He loved essay tests vs. objective tests. He didn’t like the guessing aspect of objective testing. In essay tests students had to explain in detail and have a good knowledge of the material.

Dr. Powell was my student teaching supervisor. He usually observed my class once a week or more. When he could not be there, I made audiotapes of the class that he would then critique and tell me how I was doing. He applauded the good things and told me how to improve on other aspects of my student teaching.

At that time, graduate students had to complete both oral and comprehensive examinations. A panel of your professors met with you for about an hour to quiz you; the star of my panel was Dr. Powell.

At that time, graduate students had to complete both oral and comprehensive examinations. A panel of your professors met with you for about an hour to quiz you; the star of my panel was Dr. Powell.

Dr. Powell and I both arrived early. He asked me about economics, my undergraduate major. He then turned to a world globe in the room and asked me some impossible questions about which major cities were on the same latitude with New York City and how did this location affect the economics of those cities. After I fumbled around to answer, Dr. Powell interrupted me and said he was just kidding. He had a great sense of humor. This was just his way of calming me down before the real exam began.

In conclusion, I know for certain that there are several teachers out there who feel the same way I feel about Dr. Powell. When I saw him at JMU this summer, he was on his way to play racquetball, and yes that smile is till there. His hair was entirely white, but that was the only change. He still had time to stop and talk with me. It was great to see him; he is retired now. JMU and the teachers he nurtured will always remember him and his efforts to give us the very best.

Retired professor of business education William L. Powell lives in Mount Solon, Va. Reach him at (540) 350–2334.