In his 50 years as an educator, David Walton has learned lessons from his students, just as they have learned from him.
Among the things hes learned is not to take himself too seriously, even when teaching seventh grade students at First Presbyterian Day School the anatomy of a sentence and the parts of speech.
Nouns and pronouns and verbs make the backbone of every sentence, Walton, 71, told his third period class on a recent Thursday. Does every sentence, Ben, have to have a backbone?
Yes, answered student Ben Hall.
Yes it does, cause without a backbone, its not a sentence. Its a fragment, and thats a boo-hiss, isnt it? responded Walton, eliciting some laughter from the class.
Walton has spent 42 years of his career at FPD, splitting his time as an English teacher and an elementary school principal. Hes worked at the school almost as long as its been open, only missing out on the schools first year of operation in 1970-1971.
While school enrollment has grown from about 200 to more than 900 in the years hes been at the school and new buildings have gone up to accommodate those students, Walton said the schools leaders over the years have helped FPD maintain its core principles.
The values of the school have always remained the same, no matter whether it was small (or) in the growing years, he said.
Before coming to FPD, Walton spent eight years teaching seventh graders at Riley Elementary, which housed first through seventh grade students when he taught there in the 1960s, initially teaching students all subjects, then just English. He himself is a product of the Bibb County school system. He later went on to graduate from Mercer University, as well as earning a masters from what is now Georgia College & State University and an administrative certificate at the University of Georgia.
I have always known, probably since I was 14 or 15, that the Lord wanted me to be a teacher, Walton said. Its just always been in my blood.
Among his most influential teachers was Russell Floyd, who taught Walton French and served as Rileys principal when Walton worked there. Floyd eventually left to become FPDs assistant headmaster and Latin teacher and encouraged Walton to apply for a job there, too.
Walton started teaching English at FPD in 1971, mostly for seventh graders, and in 1981, he became the schools assistant headmaster and elementary school principal.
After 21 years as an administrator, Walton returned to the classroom in 2002 after a teaching position opened up at the school. He plans to retire at the end of the school year, ending his career back where he started.
I loved both of the positions, but my heart, my favorite is teaching, he said. I just have always been a teacher at heart.
Walton has developed a reputation for being a tough teacher but also a favorite among students, said Molly Pearson, principal of FPDs middle school.
Hes been both a teacher and an administrator, she said. He has a good sense of the whole school and the mission of the whole school.
Some of Waltons favorite works include Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol and Mildred D. Taylors Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, a book set during the Depression. He also likes to recite Lewis Carrolls poem Jabberwocky, which tends to stick with students years after theyve had his class, Walton said.
Walton hopes that no matter where students are when they start his class, they improve by the time theyve finished it.
I want them to learn a lot, to feel like theyve made a lot of progress, but I want them to say, But we had fun in the process of doing that. When they leave my room, I want them to say, You know, we had to work hard in that class, but I liked going in(to) that class.
Waltons presence will be missed at the school when he steps down in May 2013, said Pearson.
I think there are going to be a lot of tears around here.
To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 744-4331.