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West Linn High School teacher receives honor
Todd Jones goes out of his way to connect students to the community and provide learning opportunities outside of the classroom — "learning-by-doing" as he calls it.
Perhaps those are some of the many reasons Jones won Oregon's Metro Regional Teacher of the Year and is a finalist for 2019 Oregon Teacher of the Year.
On Thursday, May 10, the Oregon Department of Education, in partnership with the Oregon Lottery, announced the 13 regional winners for the Oregon Teacher of the Year.
This year the program expanded to include winners in every region who are then automatically in the running for the 2019 Oregon Teacher of the Year.
The program identifies superb educators through an application process conducted by the local Education Service District. Applicants must first be nominated before submitting testimonials and letters of support from various colleagues. Applicants also had to answer prompts that included topics about improving school culture and connecting students to the community. The nominees were assessed on leadership, instructional expertise, community involvement, understanding of educational issues, professional development and vision by a panel of regional representatives.
"We can learn by reading and listening, but we will fully understand so much more if we experience what we learn; if we involve our eyes, ears, mouths and hands in the learning process," said the West Linn High School social studies and government teacher. "That's why my economics students start businesses and manage investment portfolios, my government students work to pass a budget through the state legislature, my Oregon studies students throw axes and climb trees as they learn the lumberjack trade, and my U.S. history students engage in Civil War reenactments to realize the horrors of war."
And after WLHS senior Rory Bialostosky took Jones' U.S. government and politics class his junior year, he was quick to nominate Jones.
"I felt like his class changed my direction; it changed my life," Bialostosky said. "Our vice principal said it best: He does a lot of things behind the scenes that means a lot to the community here at school."
And Jones is no stranger to politics and government.
During his senior year at Willamette University, Jones remembers not being able to sleep one night. He had been student teaching at South Salem High School as a 20-year-old student planning to receive his bachelor's in education. He was helping teach students only two to three years younger than himself. He decided he wanted to see what else the world had to offer. He changed his major to history and graduated in 1988 to work in politics and government for about seven years before becoming a teacher at Bolton Primary — which used to be a middle school — in 1996.
There, he discovered his teaching focal point.
While teaching students about Mexico during social studies class, Jones helped students connect the textbook to the realities of the subject matter.
"We talked about immigration and people who come to our state and why do they come? What challenges do they face?" Jones said. "I took the students to a migrant camp just outside of Woodburn and we had this beautiful interaction with migrant workers, many of whom I presume were in the state illegally."
Jones said communication was difficult because the workers spoke primarily Spanish, but students brought soccer balls with them and decided to play around — a connection beyond words.
"Right there in my first year of teaching, I realized how important it was for our kids and how important it was for me to get them outside of our walls; to connect them with people outside of our building; to make the challenges we all face across the world clear to them," he said. "That we connect to the community in a meaningful way."
Jones then taught at Rosemont Ridge Middle School and now WLHS. And due to his extensive involvement with the school, community and professional extra curricular activities, Bialostosky said Jones fits all the criteria to receive 2019 Oregon Teacher of the Year.
"He just inspired me to get involved," Bialostosky said. "I hope he wins. It would be cool to see a teacher from West Linn win."
"I love my kids a lot and care about them a lot, and that shows in my work," Jones adds.
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