Today I found out that a former teacher of mine has cancer and only weeks to live. We all have lots of teachers throughout our lives (and someone who has as many degrees as I do has even more), but I consider myself lucky to have had someone like him who made such an impression on my life.
James “Pax” Paxton was my high school band teacher for four years. But he was so much more than that to me and so many of my classmates. He knew how to work with high schoolers better than anyone I know, he knew how to earn our respect, how to joke with us, and how to push us to work our hardest, for whatever we wanted.
He took hundreds, if not thousands, of us to Europe for three weeks during the summer with American Music Abroad – I was lucky enough to go twice. Those of us who were fortunate enough to go on AMA really got to know him and his wife on a completely different level. They were teachers and leaders but they were also friends. His students would do anything for him. For whom else would high schoolers get up even earlier than normal before early morning summer band camp to decorate the road leading to school for his 50th birthday?
He taught us leadership, he taught us life skills, and occasionally he taught us music, too. He taught me how to come out of my shell. A girl who was so shy that her 6th grade science teacher once asked her mother if she knew how to speak, I am so much more confident as an adult because of Pax. My leadership style has largely been influenced by his leadership style.
At 65, his card has been drawn far too early, but his influence has been huge. A facebook group of his former students was started this afternoon and already has over 500 members. I hope the doctors are wrong. I hope his weeks turn into months and years, but whether he goes tomorrow or in ten years, his legacy will live on. He’s one of the great people of the world.