The Suprising Origins of Papa Laker

The Suprising Origins of Papa Laker

Graham Graydon, Featured Writer

When it comes to being a teacher in school, nothing is more important than approachability. You want to form connections with your students, because at the end of the day that’s how you foster a liking of your class and yourself in their minds. And liking classes is the key to producing good work. Often, it’s hard to seem welcoming and open to your pupils, which prompts proaction such as trying to establish yourself in a certain light, trying to play into the good cop persona, perhaps even trying to assign yourself a nickname. However, there comes a time when approachability has to come to you, not the other way around. There comes a time when students have to naturally come to accept you as a person they can come to for help, come to see you as an aid versus an adversary. 

No place have I seen that notion more prevalent than in Southwest’s new principal, Dr. Bennett. A couple weeks ago he made waves when he made the controversial announcement via PA that he would like to start being called Papa Laker instead of simply his “official” name. At the time, I hadn’t heard about this turn of events, and only heard about the principal’s name change a day later, and yet I was still taken aback. Not only was it an odd choice of nickname no matter what, but assigning it to yourself? An interesting choice to be sure, one that left a sour taste in my mouth. It felt like he was shoehorning in an excuse as to why we should accept him as our new school leader.

“Dr. Bennett’s take on his name did a lot to get me to rethink my opinion”

My problems with the nickname as a whole are pretty clear. It’s an easy to spot attempt to build a relationship with the student body on his part. He wants to be approachable, something that I can commend him for, but frankly forcing a name on yourself is not the way to approach it. It’s not easy to be the new admin in the building, I understand that. He doesn’t want to be on the outside forever, he wants to be accepted, but I think there are better ways to do it. On top of that, I think nicknames are actually assigned by people for being someone that they see and appreciate, and when you try to jump the gun on that process, I think it doesn’t create the bond he is looking for. 

The name itself was also unique. I’m not sure whether he was trying to make some sort of statement by going full in on the “papa” thing. Perhaps he was trying to pin himself as the “father” of Southwest. Of course, how can you call yourself a father when you haven’t even been around for three months. 

I reached out to Dr. Bennett for comment on this, a request that he willingly obliged. I started our discussion trying to gauge what he had been called at his old school, hoping that maybe that would shine some light on his choice at Southwest, to which he said that he had been called “Papa Eagle,” a statement which helped me make sense of his new nickname. He went on to say that a student of his that went to his old school went to summer camp with a student from Southwest, and at a football game, “that student said, ‘We called him papa eagle, you should call him papa laker’”. This was very interesting to me, as it meant that the narrative that had been going around school was actually wrong. He also touched on the fact that he was trying to make himself seem open to the student body, saying “sometimes the principal is kind of seen like the hammer… if you make yourself more approachable and more friendly… you can make yourself seem more like an asset and a guider, instead of someone who just says rules,”. 

Dr. Bennett’s take on his name did a lot to get me to rethink my opinion. It’s hard for me to not understand his point of view. His heart is in the right place, and I appreciate the effort. Having an unapproachable and distant principal is never fun. All things considered, I appreciate his efforts, but I think that he should give it time and let the student body get to know him first, and let a nickname grow organically.