I apologize for not sending this sooner. Perhaps it will help to expand just a little more, the picture of who Alex was to so many people.

An introduction:  I worked with Alex at The Siskiyou School for a few years before I retired a year ago.  I no longer live in Ashland, so it has taken awhile for the news of his passing to reach me.  I am deeply saddened by his loss and wish to extend my heartfelt condolences to his family, of whom he always spoke so fondly.

My sixth grade class was one of the first that Alex taught when he came to our school.  They were a challenging bunch of rowdy 12 year olds, but he was a miracle worker with them.  Because of the Waldorf system, 6th grade was the first year that my class had ever experienced a new teacher for math.  Every day was a dance as the new teacher (Alex) and the students (25 of them!) got to know each other.  I was coming to the end of my career and he was just starting his.  I relished watching him teach because he brought fresh ideas and energy.  I enjoyed my role as a mentor and observer, but Alex really didn’t need much advice.  He had great intuition about how to reach the kids.

I usually was in the classroom working on lesson plans and correcting papers while Alex taught.  One day, I heard a loud slap against the blackboard and a collective gasp from the class.  I quickly looked up to see what Mr. N-B was up to!  He had just attached a $100 bill to the board with a magnet.  He told them that he was willing to put his cash on the line. If every student got an A on the math test the next day, he would donate the money to our 8th grade trip fund.  What a buzz!  A couple of thoughts were racing in my head:  he was just a young guy working 2 or 3 jobs to make ends meet – how could he afford to do this?  (sort of the mother in me I guess)  And would the students understand the message?  Well, I didn’t interfere with his plan.  So…everyone vowed to study hard and get an A the following day.  I checked in with him before the test to see what he thought would happen.  He was pretty sure his money was safe, but he was honestly willing to give up the money if need be.  As the students settled in, hard at work on the test, both Alex and I slowly walked through the classroom checking over shoulders to see what was happening.  Within minutes I caught his eye and said, “Your money is safe Mr. N-B.”  Sure enough, the usual suspects hadn’t really put too much effort into their studies and they didn’t get As.  It was a bit of a gamble for him, but it definitely caught the attention of every student.  They came to realize that he had real faith in their ability to do well.  His approach was inventive for sure!

Another time, the students were having a really hard time understanding about adding and subtracting unlike fractions.  The concept of converting the fractions so the denominators would be the same just wasn’t getting through.  Alex noticed two girls who were dressed practically identical from the waist down, but had different shirts.  He brought them up to represent two different fractions (9/8 and 3/8 for example).  Everyone had to draw the two girls into their books.  He showed the class that these fractions could be worked with because the denominators were the same and allowed them to just work with the numerators. From that point on, he just had to mention the Emily/Tori fraction and everyone got it!  In fact, at their 8th grade graduation, the class honored each of their many teachers by repeating phrases that had stuck in their minds as a result of their constant repetition.  The phrase they attributed to Mr. N-B was “and the denominator stays…THE SAME!”

I gather that you have heard many memories of Alex over the past few weeks.  He was such an amazing young man – a real gift to humanity.  He was inspiring and caring.  Thank you for bringing him into the world to share with the rest of us.  He is truly missed.

Blessings on your family,

Debbie Murphy

 

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