Monday, October 24, 2011

Ode to Sweet Jimmy

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?


  1. Dawn , you brought back some great memories.. I remember mostly the chuckles when one would say O I C. He knew the light would come on eventually..

  2. I always loved how you fell into his trap over and over again - you'd be so deep in thought while he was explaining something and then, bam! It would hit you and you'd be so excited - until he gave you that look and you realized that the whole class was waiting for you to get it! But at least you had the satisfaction of knowing what in the heck he was talking about!

  3. Dawn: I love this so much! I WISH WISH WISH that the email worked. I would have put you in the line-up! Still, this is fantastic. How fabulous and what a testimonial to the impact of the good work one great teacher can do.

    Will you let me know what didn't work re: email? No one has ever complained about email not working before!

  4. I shall never forget that "What about....." line...and how you or David or Hope would randomly interject that into a conversation! And other Sweet Jimmy-isms: "That's slicker'n snot on a glass doorknob!" or "That's lower than whale doo-doo....and that's on the bottom of the ocean!" Remember how he'd never give sophomores a 100 on his tests? Sweet Jimmy and our Ditto Queen were truly scary, inspiring teachers - that made us push ourselves beyond the mundane. Part of who I am is due to their influence. Although I must admit that I still haven't found a useful reason for memorizing the Pythagorean theorem. Believe it or not, I can still recite that "In any right triangle (remember - you have to say 'any right triangle', not just 'a right triangle' LOL), the area of the square whose side is the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the areas of the squares whose sides are the other two sides." I remember thinking "why would anyone look at the triangle and see stoopid squares around the sides??? It's a tringle for Pete's sake!" But needless to say...I know that, "A Squared Plus B Squared Equals C Squared". I just know that, one day, that little tidbit of knowledge shall come in just hasn't happened yet. :)


  5. Thanks for posting your comment, Linda! It brought back even more memories for me! I know a lot of people unfortunately experienced bad teachers, but I honestly think we had some pretty good teachers in our poor little public high school. Mr. P. was just one of them - Mrs. Proctor, Coach Derryberry, Mrs. Howard, all taught us so much more than just some book-learnin', and I am forever thankful for all they did.

  6. Dawn! I want to run this for TWITS. Will you send it to me in a Word File? I cannot let only 5 people see it! It's too good. ;-)