PHS history teacher John Baxter plans to retire and pursue historical inquiries

John Baxter, a PHS history teacher, has worked in the Princeton Public Schools district since 1998 and has been involved with various clubs such as Model UN and Mock Trial. photo by <span class="credit credit- "><a href="/credit/"Aaron/" title="View all of this person's work">"Aaron</a></span>

John Baxter, a PHS history teacher, has worked in the Princeton Public Schools district since 1998 and has been involved with various clubs such as Model UN and Mock Trial.
photo by Aaron Wu

After 19 years at PHS, PHS history teacher John Baxter will be retiring at the end of this school year. Baxter has been working in the Princeton Public Schools district since 1998, and throughout his PHS career, Baxter has taught U.S. History I and II, AP U.S. History, AP Government and Politics, and Government and Law.

Once retired, Baxter plans to pursue his passion of history by completing various writing and research inquiries. These tasks are part of the reason that Baxter has decided to retire.

“I have a lot of [writing] projects—including a book—that I’ve started and need to go back to. I started researching [three soldiers from the Civil War] about 12 years ago, and one thing has led to another. Coming to PHS meant the writing I wanted to do had to wait. I have a lot of research and writing projects that I look forward to working on, and hopefully bringing to completion,” said Baxter.

Many PHS students expressed enjoyment of Baxter’s ability to teach history in a way that is engaging and memorable.

“He’s always ready to lend a helping hand when someone is struggling,” said Erica Oake ’20, a student of Baxter. “My favorite thing about him is that he can explain the material in ways he knows we, as [students], can understand.”

Many students have stated that their admiration for Baxter as a teacher stems from his love of history and from his originality.

Other students recall moments when Baxter made them feel more cheerful and comfortable amidst events occurring in the real world.

“On November ninth, right after the [presidential] election, some of the people in my class were really upset about Trump having won, and so [Baxter] actually sang them a little song to try to cheer them up,” said Joshua Spergel ’19. “He makes learning fun by changing [things] up instead of just talking about dates or times or places, and I think he’s a great teacher.”

Mr. Baxter hopes to leave a legacy that teaches students to understand history on a deeper level.

“I think the gift that any teacher hopes to give is a love and appreciation of their particular subject matter. History [can’t be taught], simply, as facts. History gives meaning to who we are on a variety of levels, a meaning to life. So, for students to value history not for the knowledge of facts, but for the story that they tell about who we are is important to me for students to take away [from my teaching],” Baxter said.

Baxter has been involved in numerous clubs throughout his time at PHS, including Mock Trial and Model UN. He is still working with Mock Trial, and the students in the club admire him as someone who is extremely invested in the program’s success.

Baxter’s colleagues in the history department recall memories of working side by side with him. In particular, Jeffrey Lucker, a fellow history teacher, expressed his ideas on what kind of legacy Baxter is leaving behind.

“The legacy of [Mr. Baxter], or any great teacher, is a series of great students who have left the high school, have gone onto college, and have marked Mr. Baxter as having made a significant difference in their life,” said Lucker.

While his students hold different memories of Baxter than his colleagues, they continue to recall meaningful moments with him, in which he has helped them grow as students.

“I remember towards the beginning of the year I was nervous to talk in front of the class, but he was able to help me laugh off the nervousness and just talk. Thanks to that small gesture, I was able to get through a reading with a new level of comfort,” said Oake.

Baxter will miss the beauty of teaching with today’s youth due to the positive energy it provides him.

“I would say that one thing I’ll miss is when you have the combination of levity and laughter with learning. One of the things that is really nice about teaching at this grade level is being around young people,” said Baxter. “You guys know how to have fun… something that we lose a little bit as we get older. It keeps you young and smiling.”

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