Tuesday, February 13, 2007


My Mom could always tell when I liked a new teacher when I would come home grumbling, scared to death. She would remind me that effective teachers often have to lay down the law early on, so the class will be orderly and peaceful. Which I liked. But because I took everything personally, when a teacher had to raise his voice, even if it was directed to the bonehead on my right, I felt pierced. I needlessly worried about getting into trouble. In time, I always proved her right; I liked me the strict ones. I found them charming; I found myself babysitting their kids.

I remember the first time I met Mr. Saxton. It was my first day of high school and I hadn't mastered the maze of portables that surrounded our growing school, and after lunch I got confused and stumbled into class a few minutes late. I was tardy, a first for me. I slid into a desk in back, next to my friend Tracy, imitating what I seen other kids pull off for years. Unfortunately Saxton saw us and called us to the front of the room. There I was, in all my goody-goody glory, horrified that I was late (strike one: self-punishment, an art form) and that the teacher was making an example out of me (strike two: my worst nightmare, in technicolor). I stood there red-faced and lightheaded while he explained that since we were coming from a break, THERE WAS NO EXCUSE FOR BEING TARDY. I was scandalized and sick - he's lucky I didn't pass out.

Mr. Saxton prided himself in refusing to smile the first few months of school, but I swear he smirked when he arrived the next day to find me eating my lunch in front of the classroom door. I think I stalked that portable for a near month and whined about how ferocious he was to anybody that would listen.

Over that year, I learned to respect Mr. Saxton and loved my English class. He was funny and stern and a fine educator. Because we met in an electronics classroom, we sometimes watched newsworthy events to prompt journal writing. We tuned in to watch the Challenger blow up in real time. I remember how surprised we all were. He had us turn to the page. I looked forward to that class everyday. At the end of that year, he announced that he would see us when we were Juniors - he didn't like sophomores, didn't teach them and told us not to feel bad when he ignored us during 10th grade. I tried to visit with him anyway and pouted until I had a chance to take two more years of English from him. He was straightforward and wasn't prone to buttering people up so when he encouraged me to write, his word had sway. He had tremendous influence on me.

Mr. Saxton was on the local news today - he is now a principal at my old school and is enforcing an unpopular dress code aimed at eliminating gang influences in the district. (Which sounds a little funny to me, gangs coming to the country.) He is still my no-nonsense hero, solid and sturdy in a time when schools often acquiesce to over-indulgent parents.

Long live backbone.

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