(also cross-posted at ShiftJournal)
Late last week, a local friend posted on Facebook that retired Central High School teacher Jim Sauer had passed away. This made me more than a little sad because Jim had become a daily fixture at the library. I'm not sure that any of my other colleagues knew who he was, unless they were Central alums, because he was just another of those older gentlemen who came early and stayed late, reading newspapers and magazines for hours, and maybe resting their eyes for a few minutes. But, aside from missing a friendly daily patron, Jim--Mr. Sauer--was one of the first people who made me know that I had made the right decision to pull up stakes and move my girls away from the place where they had been born and raised.
We moved here in June, and it was the first fall of classes for my girls. My oldest daughter, Olivia, (Juniorette, to you long-time readers) was a sophomore in high school when I got a call at work. It was School calling. It was Mr. Sauer, Olivia's Psychology teacher, calling during school hours. He got right to the point: "Is there something wrong with your daughter?" Immediately, my heart jumped to my throat. I mean, Olivia had Asperger's Syndrome, but we'd had a meeting at the beginning of the school year with a counselor, Vice Principal and a few others, and everyone was to have gotten the message, and even though we had some bumps, I'd never gotten a call like this. "What do you mean?" was all I could ask.
As it turns out, Olivia had been handing back all of Mr Sauer's handouts, quizzes and tests with corrections on them. She was not a behavior problem, but she was kind of challenging him occassionally if she thought he misspoke and was behaving in a way that students generally did not behave towards teachers. I asked, "You do know she has Asperger's Syndrome, don't you?" He said he'd had no idea, and that in that context her behavior made perfect sense. He then went on to praise her as the top performing student out of all three of his Pyschology I classes, and found her to be very insightful and appreciated her presence in his class. WOW. No lecture on appropriate behavior and no petition to have me talk to her about how to defer to the teacher. Just pure praise and understanding. I had waited 10 years to find teachers like Mr. Sauer.
Olivia showed me some of the handouts, and I understood why she corrected them. They were a challenge to her Aspergian need for grammatical and punctuational perfection. I talked to her about how not everyone has the same skills--even teachers aren't perfect. For instance, we can't math ourselves out of a paper bag. I explained that there are kinder ways to correct people as well. I also explained that she should be grateful to have a teacher like Mr. Sauer and that some teachers would have reacted differently, maybe even punitively. This was, very thankfully, the beginning of a mostly very positive experience for her at Central.
I had no idea just how beloved Jim Sauer was when I first talked to him. As we've been in the community for five years now, I have since learned that he wasn't going out of his way for us, a new family with special needs on that one day. He was a teacher, and that's just what he did every single day. I'm so glad I got to meet him and thank him personally for his kindness to us. Acts such as that are immeasurably meaningful. Thank you Jim, and teachers everywhere. James George Sauer obituary. Facebook group: We Love Mr. Sauer!