An extra special year at Morton High School

By MARSHA BARNES,

We all love to see familiar faces at work, but to some of us, those familiar faces have been extra special this year. A group of teachers at Morton High School share a special bond. With this year’s addition of Regina Pettus and Pat Baugh, there are now four members of the MHS faculty who find themselves in a truly unique position: Pat Baugh taught Regina Pettus who taught Marsha Barnes who taught Dax Fairchild.

Mrs. Baugh, as my class called her when she taught us English in the eighth grade, is now affectionately known as “Mrs. Pat” by the students who are lucky enough to have her in her Jobs for Missisippi Graduates class. Baugh, a 1970 MHS graduate, began her teaching career at Morton High School in l976 in the classroom that is now my own. Throughout her teaching career, she was involved in almost every aspect of our schools — ranging from high school and middle school English to the Gifted class and high school librarian.

As someone who also worked beside Pat Baugh, it is impossible to describe exactly what her job description entailed because she had a role in so many aspects of our school. MHS is unbelievably blessed that this natural-born teacher decided to come out of her “retirement” to share her gifts with yet another generation of local children. I have rarely seen anyone in any field with the energy level and compassion this woman has for her students.

So many things she has done already for them are just awe-inspiring, and she would never want any credit for them. She is an amazing woman, and she looks the same as she did twenty years ago! When asked how it feels to be back in the game of teaching again, Mrs. Pat said, “I just love being around the kids. Being able to help them to prepare for life after graduation and learn how to give back to their community is so rewarding and fun.”

Mrs. Pettus, or as I still call her occasionally, “Miss Gray” as she was known to us, taught me junior English at Morton. Mrs. Pettus, herself a former homecoming queen and l977 MHS graduate, left Morton in l985 when she moved to California. A few years later, she began teaching at East Rankin Academy in Pelahatchie, where she taught for ten years.

When I heard that Mrs. Pettus may be joining us this year, a rush of nostalgia came over me since she was moving back into the same classroom in which she taught me and my classmates years ago, the same room where I can still remember her vivid stories and fun lessons.  Like Mrs. Pat, she still looks the same as she did back then. When I told my students that she taught me, I don’t think they actually believed me. Her wisdom and kind, gentle nature make her a wonderful asset to our faculty. I know she has shared with me on several occasions how happy she is to be “home” and how pleased she is to work in such a safe, disciplined environment.

I remember one specific day earlier in the school year when she told me how she was amazed how her seniors had lined up outside of her classroom door and would not enter her room because they hadn’t been given permission to do so yet. Being a veteran teacher at MHS, I often take for granted the disciplinary rules and procedures of our school, but it was nice to realize that someone new was noticing the overall extremely well-mannered student body. Mrs. Pettus commented on her return to MHS by saying: “I feel honored to be home working with such a passionate group of educators who love the students and the school. This passion was clearly evident recently when the school received a tremendous increase in their accountability rating. I saw firsthand teachers who were so moved by their school’s success that they were moved to tears. Although I have only been here a few months, it is very clear why these teachers feel so strongly about this school and its students whom they impact on a daily basis. I have already grown attached to these extremely loving and amazingly loyal students myself.”

Dax Fairchild, a 2011 graduate of Morton High School and former student of mine, began his teaching career here in 2015. As a member of my honors-level English classes, he impressed me years ago with his quick wit, sharp intellect, and sincere empathy for others. As a history teacher, he brings a passion to the classroom that few teachers have.

Mr. Fairchild doesn’t have students focus on repetitive memorization; he challenges students to ask deeper questions, to ponder the “why” of historically-significant events, and to get involved when needed. As a teacher of a subject that is a state-tested subject, he goes beyond just the regular classroom hours trying to help his students succeed through various remediation opportunities he offers. After driving his school bus route each day, he gives his students everything he has each day. It is truly special to walk by his classroom and hear him teach.

 Mr. Fairchild said, “I enjoy teaching here in my hometown and have found it very rewarding to teach in the community in which I was raised.  It was exciting to hear that Mrs. Baugh would be back teaching at Morton this school year, as she was the librarian when I passed through the halls of MHS as a student.  It is very intriguing to work at a place that hosts four generations of educators that have such connections as well as being Morton alumni.  I am confident that this is where I am supposed to be.”