Thursday, April 10, 2014

Ms. Doxey

There are a lot of names, from Quail Hollow Elementary, that I can still remember: Aders. Olsen. Beckstead (and before that she was Phelps). Shurtleff. Keeley. Stavros...

But one name loomed largest over education in Sandy, Utah.

It was a name that struck an inexplicable dread into any kid that heard it.

The name carried a reputation. This teacher was different than all of the others. It was said that kids that went into this class were never the same again.

When you went to the school, on a late summer afternoon, to see who your teacher was going to be for the next year, there was one name, above all others, that you did not want to read:


And, on an August afternoon in 1982, I read the class lists, and found my name under...Doxey.

I started updating my will, then and there. Aaron would get the Star Wars figures and the Atari. Ami would get the trampoline, and the picture of she and I dressed up for Halloween (she was a witch, I was a hobo). The rest of my estate would be divided up amongst my brother, and any of my classmates fortunate enough not to get Ms. Doxey.

And it was Ms. Doxey.

Not Mrs. Doxey.

Not Miss Doxey.

I learned, unequivocally, in the fourth grade, what the prefix "Ms." meant.

Ms. Doxey was a towering figure. I'm not kidding. In my mind's eye, even now, she's at least eight feet tall. But it wasn't her height that made her towering -- it was her presence. Ms. Doxey commanded the room. This was not a school marm. This was a school master.

The day after Labor Day, 1982, the playground bell sounded long and mournful, like doom was spreading across the land. Dark clouds, and rolling thunder emitted from the fourth grade door and  I walked with a heavy heart, and heavier steps, into Quail Hollow Elementary. It was like walking to my own execution. No one would ever see me again.

At least that's what I thought was going to happen.

Have you ever been part of a club, or let in on a big secret? From the outside, your perspective is informed by ignorance, and, perhaps, misunderstanding. But, from the inside, you can see things as they really are. From the first day, my brain wasn't melted, as I'd feared...but my mind was expanded.

Ms. Doxey had a variety of tools at her disposal, beyond the training she had received as an educator. They are the tools that set a master educator apart from an adequate one.

Expectation of excellence.

In a world that often strives for mediocrity, Ms. Doxey raised the bar for us. From reading, to arithmetic, to classroom behavior, she expected us to be excellent. That doesn't mean that we always were, but, as Thoreau said, "In the long run, men only hit what they aim at, therefore they had better aim at something high."

I don't believe that excellence is an end goal. It's a matter of being. We don't arrive at excellence, we become excellent.

Ms. Doxey told us what her expectations were, and then showed us how to get there. She told us, with hard work and effort, we could be excellent


I don't know how you keep a classroom of fourth graders under control, and doubt that we were always under control, but I know how I felt. I didn't want to goof off. A disciple is a student, but more than eager student. Ms. Doxey opened our eyes to the wonders around us. We were Ms. Doxey's disciples. We sat at her feet, and she taught us about our world.

Through pictures and stories from her time there, she introduced us to Greece. Words like Zeus, and Athena, Acropolis and Parthenon entered our vocabulary for the first time. The stories of the gods of Olympus fascinated me. To tell you the truth, she should have been working for the Tourism Board of Greece. I imagine every kid in that class was ready to book a mediterranean cruise.

In Ms. Doxey's class, I learned about the most fascinating man I had ever heard of -- Leonardo DaVinci, and an incredible era in history called The Renaissance. DaVinci was an architect and a visionary. He was an artist. I learned that art was more than a hobby. I learned that art matters. The word art is short for articulation, and our art is what we have to say to the world. I learned that we all have something worth saying.


Respect is a two way door. If it's one sided, it's not respect, it's fear. And, contrary to popular notion, you cannot command respect, you have to earn it. It can be given and lost. It can't be demanded or taken. Kids, uninformed and ignorant, sometimes feared the idea of going to Ms. Doxey's class. But, once we were on the inside, we learned quickly that our perceptions were gross misunderstandings.
And, Ms. Doxey taught me a lesson, that stays with me to this day -- that everyone is worthy of my respect, until they prove otherwise.  She respected us from the beginning -- it was given, and therefore became ours to lose. And, we learned to respect her.

I don't know if she ever knew this. I hope she did. I hope she knew how much she impacted not just our education, but our lives. Everyone I know from those days remembers her, and all of the trepidation and imposing reputation, that intimidated us as children, has fallen away. What is left is eternal respect, and undying admiration for living embodiment of the title, educator.

It turned out that the rumors were true.

Ms. Doxey WAS different from other teachers.

And the kids that found themselves in her class were never the same again.

1 comment:

Travis said...

Great post. I was just thinking about Ms Doxey and I Googled for her and found your blog post. I have told many people about my fourth grade teacher that changed my life. Amazing teacher.