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Reflecting After 34 Years in the Classroom

I was in the same school district, West Valley Yakima, Washington, for a total of 34 years including substituting and coached for 36 years in four different districts.

Perspectives

Jon Delos Eldridge is currently a retired teacher from Washington state and hails from a family of educators. Having worked in the same school district for over 30 years, Jon reflected upon his career and shared some advice for up-and-coming educators.

Let’s start with your background. What got you into teaching in the first place, and in what capacities have you worked in schools?

I was born in Mount Vernon, Washington in 1952. My dad graduated college with an education degree but did not teach. He was a state legislator, owned his own business and my mom was a teacher. They had four children in five years and I was the youngest.

Growing up I really didn’t care for the core subjects in school but loved being at school and enjoyed the elective classes. I was active in sports and enjoyed every minute of practice and competition.

My older brother and one of my older sisters attended Washington State University and both graduated with Education Degrees. I attended community college part time for 2 years before enrolling at Washington State University and also graduated with an Education Degree.

My brother and his wife, my sister and her husband and my wife and I were all teachers.

I was in the same school district, West Valley Yakima, Washington, for a total of 34 years including substituting and coached for 36 years in four different districts. My degrees include a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education, Master’s Degree in Educational Development, and Master’s Degree in Administration.

My family.
My family.

You worked as an athletics coach for a number of years. What have been some of your biggest takeaways in the similarities and differences between classroom teaching and coaching student athletics?

In the state of Washington, all students are required to participate in physical education classes. With that requirement we had a significant number of students that really did not want to participate. During that same period of time while coaching athletes, participation was voluntary and we actually had to cut a large number of student athletes that wanted to participate.

Can you share with us a story about one of the things you’re most proud of as a teacher?

While at West Valley School district, our students were not scoring well on reading and math standardized tests. I was the chair of a committee to improve these scores. We implemented two strategies. First, we shortened each of our five periods by four minutes each to add a reading period of 20 minutes. Not only were students required to read, but the teachers would model this by reading, too. Second, we encouraged teachers to have various math strategies within their curriculum. Not only was this successful, but our teachers became very creative with implementing this strategy into their curricula.

Coaching in a basketball game.
Coaching in a basketball game.

What would you say have been some of the biggest evolutions and changes in teaching throughout your career? 

I would say the biggest change during my career was the financial and time commitment expected of teachers. It is very expensive to not only earn a teaching degree but also the continued education to stay current. The workshops, paper work, record keeping, documentation and discipline have added an incredible amount of “non-teaching” time to a typical day.

Another big change has been with standardized testing. I believe that standardized testing has taken away from the creativity and flexibility of individual teachers. Good or bad teachers are now teaching to “the test.”

What do you wish you knew when you started your career, and what kind of advice would you give to new and aspiring teachers?

Make a list of successful teachers in your building and visit their classrooms as much as possible. Be there for the start of the instruction and stay as long as possible. Don’t be afraid to try new strategies. Relax, be yourself, and enjoy! There will be tough days but all of the good days make it worthwhile.

Dr. Wallace Ting is originally from Dallas, Texas and began his career in education as a public school mathematics teacher in Texas and New York City (as part of the NYC Teaching Fellows program). He has also worked in international education for a total of 10 years as a Principal, Deputy Director, and Director in Guatemala, Colombia, and Nigeria. Currently, Dr. Ting resides in Orlando, Florida with his young son, Phillip and enjoys playing tennis, camping, and hiking.

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