Once in a while I reminisce about my school days and think about those teachers in my life who most inspired me to learn. Ed Axtmann was one such teacher. His deep baritone, rumbled along with a hint of old country German as he recited countless verb conjugations in Latin. He was an animated presence, often stooping low and taking deep steps as he marched around the front of the classroom holding his hardwood chalkboard pointer. Occasionally he would burst out in a fit of mock anger and slam that pointer onto the desktop of some unsuspecting student, uttering a German phrase that I can only transpose as ‘deuter gewitter, loci mol’. To this day I don’t know what the literal translation is but he often assured us that it was Bavarian profanity and was best said to mean ‘thunderstorm’.

If I learned anything in his class, it was to be prepared for anything. Participation was something Mr. Axtmann expected and the fact that we didn’t know when we would be called to participate was especially unnerving. To make Fate a major player in our education he often utilized Pandora’s Box, which was nothing more than an old Sucrets tin that held a small collection of red paperboard bingo disks. Each disk had been inscribed with a number in felt tip pen and represented a student in the classroom. Axtmann would allow a random student to choose from Pandora’s Box, and when the (un)lucky number was read aloud, that student would get to translate – ready, or not – a passage of Latin for the rest of the class.
Pandora's Box

I was reminded time and again by many friends that took Spanish or German that my three years of Latin were a waste of a foreign language. ‘It’s a dead language,’ they would say. Maybe. But I would remind them that Latin is the root of many languages, including English. Thanks to Ed Axtmann and my studies in Latin I have a pretty good handle on the English language. It not only improved my spelling habits, but has been tremendously helpful in deciphering difficult vocabulary. Above all, Ed taught me the importance of having passion for what you’re teaching.

Mr. Axtmann, Magister, you made a difference. Thank you.

Holy Moses


I had the opportunity this evening to spend some time with the kids at Legacy United Methodist. This month the kids have been talking all about ‘Creativity’ so my wife, Suzanne, (Kid’s Ministry Director and frequent favor asker) asked me to come and demonstrate how to make a ‘flip book’ animation for the kids using 3″ x 5″ cards. The story tonight was about baby Moses and how he was found by Pharoah’s daughter floating down the Nile in a basket. As the kids worked on their flip books, I drew a more mature Moses parting the Red Sea. All the kids asked me if I was planning on doing another animation with this drawing. It was a cool idea, but seeing how long the simplistic basket animation took I told them they’d be waiting a really long time… like ’40 years in the desert’ long.


Meritorious Achievement

I probably shouldn’t consider it such a huge deal, but I do. Every year I have the unique privilege of teaching some eager graphic design students the rigors of vector drawing. Drawing primitive shapes (circles, rectangles, polygons) with geometric precision doesn’t present many challenges, but the crucible for most recruits lies with learning the notorious pen tool. I can lecture, demonstrate and share war stories, but in the end nothing will teach them how to use this indispensable tool faster than practice, practice and more practice. After drilling them on some routine vector drawing exercises I can usually assess how well they grasp the basic concepts they’ve been taught. It might be hokey, but I almost want to invest in some embroidered merit badges emblazoned with the pen tool, so that when they reach that pinnacle moment of achievement – drawing efficient vector paths with prime point placement, articulation and accuracy – I can present it to each of them as a milestone accomplishment.


August is an extremely busy time of year in our household. Summer has all but come to a screeching halt and all the things that were slated for completion go into overdrive. As a teacher this rhythm is expected, but right now I’m blanking out a bit with how to proceed. Every second counts and it’s slowly ticking towards the start of the new semester. The monumental task of unpacking our department into our new building space needs to happen over the next two weeks. I just visited my office and see that all my furniture is still in boxes waiting to be assembled. It’s really overwhelming. So much to do. So little time to do it. I wish it was the only thing I had to think about right now.

The Sound of Silence

I never suffered allergies as a youngster but every year of my adult life I seem to develop more sensitivity to airborne allergens. At least that’s what I thought it was. What started out as a scratchy throat on Sunday turned into a full blown localized bacterial infection. I was convinced it had to be allergies because I never developed any other symptoms of a full-on head cold – sinus headaches, running nose, etc.

By Tuesday my throat was so sore I experienced a bit of laryngitis which, if you’re a teacher who needs to lecture, is a bad thing. The worst part is I agreed to speak at a high school career opportunities day on Wednesday only to awake that morning sounding like a goose being strangled. The most comfortable speech pattern my throat could tolerate was a hushed whisper. Thankfully my colleague agreed to fill in for me (Tom, you’re the man!).

I thought the best thing to do was visit the walk-in clinic to make sure it wasn’t strep throat, which by all accounts it certainly felt like. Turns out it wasn’t but I’m still popping the antibiotics for the remainder of this week. I still don’t have much of a voice (which my students don’t seem to mind) but hope to recover soon. I’ve never been much of a chatterbox and am usually a pretty quiet and introspective guy, but I have to admit it really stinks when you can’t talk when you want to.

The Talk

I knew the day was coming, but the school curriculum pretty much sealed the date. My oldest son’s class will soon be covering HIV in science and with it will come some talk about ‘changes’ they are all going through. Rather than have a bunch of squirrelly school boys educating each other, I thought I’d step in.

After having a nice lunch I thought I’d take him for a drive where we could discuss the topic with some privacy. After pulling into a parking lot and turning off the vehicle, I knew he was suspicious about why I wasn’t getting out. Nothing can prepare you for the awkwardness that this moment brings and once I started there was no turning back. I was going to have ‘the talk’ whether either of us were ready for it.

I must have gotten a little too graphic because at one point he complained of having a stomach ache and actually got out of the van to sit down in the parking lot. I thought he was going to refund his lunch. After the initial queasiness wore off I found out a little about what he knew and let him know where the boundaries were. We even shared some stories that we could both laugh about. Ultimately I wanted him to know that if he ever had questions about anything, that he could come talk to me.

Afterward he looked at me and said, “Dad, I feel more mature right now.” I told him how proud we were of the young man he was becoming but that he was still a boy and not to get carried away with his ‘maturity’. He’s a smart kid and I know he’ll learn more than what I’ve told him today, but being there to teach him the secret handshake of manhood was quite the experience. The talk with son number two will be in another three years. I should be ready.

Practical Jokes

Who doesn’t like a good laugh now and again? Practical joking has always been a creatively effective way to make someone laugh – providing no one gets hurt. A lot depends on who you’re pranking, too. I’ve been the victim of a few practical jokes – some unknowingly (much to the chagrin of the pranksters) – but most of the time I can appreciate the humor of the situation.

One of the traditions of the building I work in was an initiation of sorts. One of the old wooden signs outside our building was replaced years ago with a more modern metal sign. As a memento of the old sign, one of my former colleagues kept a 2 foot section of a 4×4 post. Whenever a new instructor was hired my former colleague and his cronies would lodge said post under the back tire, just out of sight, of the victim’s vehicle. Around quitting time they would all lag behind and congregate around the windows of the shop garage door that overlook the parking lot. As you can imagine, they had a good hearty laugh watching the poor fellow trying to leave after checking his parking brake repeatedly.

When my colleague retired, I inherited that post. We’ve since hired some new people in this building… hmmmm. April Fool’s is coming up.