This post is in response to a challenge laid out by fellow blogger, Renee Schuls-Jacobson ("Lessons From Teachers and Twits"), to write about a high school teacher who impacted your life in either a positive or negative way. Hope you enjoy! Oh, and be sure to check out her blog - she's an English teacher with a lot of spunk - always an enjoyable read!
High school teachers, by nature of their proximity to and the amount of time spent with their students, have the opportunity to influence adolescents’ lives – sometimes even more than their students’ parents. While, admittedly, some teachers leave a negative impression with a student, there typically exists at least one teacher who leaves a positive and indelible mark on the way a student performs well into his or her adulthood.
For me, this teacher is Mr. Padgett, my high school math teacher. While “Sweet Jimmy” had a disposition that was anything but, he nonetheless managed to endear himself to his students (well, some of us). With arms covered in tattoos commemorating his service in the navy, Mr. Padgett’s imposing presence intimidated the typical mild-mannered high school student. In his booming voice he frequently offered his opinion about matters such as the low rate of pay afforded teachers in our district: “I am the ONLY certified mathematician employed by Nassau County and yet I receive no extra compensation for my credentials. Thus, I am compelled to teach night classes at the community college,"; or the district's refusal to participate in the one Federal holiday deemed worthy of recognition by the ex-fighter pilot: “Once again it is Veteran’s Day and Nassau County is the ONLY school district in the entire state of Florida that does not feel it is important to show honor to our war veterans by giving us the day off.” This last declaration was always followed by a vivid depiction of how, while serving in Viet Nam, Sweet Jimmy’s plane was shot down and he was in a total body cast for the remainder of the war (or something like that….)
Mr. Padgett had quaint little phrases that he wrote on the board each year to help us better understand the material he was currently covering. Statements such as, "Pi R Squared - Cornbread R Round,” helped us to remember basic formulas in geometry while, “O I C, I C Y, and I C 2,” reminded us that eventually the light will indeed come on during a lesson and we WILL understand the concepts presented to us (or else we would fail and end up in Mr. Roberts’ less challenging, albeit more practical, math class).
Often Mr. Padgett took time to teach us about the finer points in life, since Nassau County also refused to present solutions for the real issues teens in the 1980’s faced (you know, those unique dilemmas only those of us who graduated in 1984 dealt with – namely, sex, drugs, and rock and roll – but mostly sex). We never knew if a morning’s math lesson would also include a reality check about birth control (“You do, of course, realize that the pill must be taken more than just either before or after you have sex in order for it to work?”) or sexually transmitted diseases (“Herpes is forever; true love is not. Always use a condom.”)
One of the most memorable math lessons, though, was the day that Mr. Padgett instructed us to take our seats and prepare to pay close attention to a film he thought would prove enlightening to us. He then proceeded to turn off the lights and cue the projector for a film hosted by none other than Ann Landers. For an entire 50 minutes we listened as Ann interviewed couples infected with either herpes or gonorrhea. “What about...herpes?” became our class mantra as we tried, unsuccessfully, to figure out just exactly what possessed those couples to agree to be interviewed on camera about such humiliating afflictions (remember, this was in the days before reality TV).
Mr. Padgett taught us much more than just mathematics. He taught us about life, and somehow managed to teach me, personally, to respect myself enough to always put forth my best effort – no matter what the task before me. Sadly, Sweet Jimmy died a few years after I graduated from high school. However, his legacy lives on not only as a great math teacher, but as one who helped prepare students for life in general. Clearly, his impact on students’ lives has survived long after his own mortality – and how many teachers can say that?