While Jay McElroy is one of six new teachers at Merced High School, he has nearly a dozen years of experience to shake off first-week jitters, as well as the support of his new colleagues.
McElroy, 43, teaches four periods of English 3 for juniors and one class called “Strategies for Students,” which helps students who haven’t passed the English portion of the high school exit exam. School began Monday for Merced-area students.
“It’s going well so far,” McElroy said. “The kids have been accepting of me and the way I do things. I have some great kids and it’s nice to be back at the high school level again. I love every single opportunity to step into a classroom. I need to be in front of the class, see the kids every day.”
Principal John Olson said there are some very promising teachers among those who are new on the campus.
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“He’s (McElroy) excited to be here and you can just see the passion he brings,” Olson said.
McElroy spent last year in Modesto, teaching fourth-grade special education classes at Standiford Elementary School in the Sylvan Union School District. His family returned from Florida in 2011, where he taught language arts to sixth-graders for three years.
His first seven years in education, 2003-2010, were spent as a resource English teacher for ninth- and 10th-grade special education students.
McElroy said he likes to be able to watch the changes in students, what he calls “light bulb moments,” when all of a sudden a student understands the concept being taught. He has no regrets about entering the teaching profession, especially working with special education students who exhibit so much positivity.
Amy Pellissier, Merced High’s associate principal for guidance services, said McElroy is a great addition to the staff, very energetic and active. Four of the six new teachers have taught before; two are brand-new teachers.
Pellissier said McElroy has a background in teaching leadership skills and working with Link Crew students, who mentor lower-grade classmates. She expects McElroy to become involved in many campus activities.
“The classes look good; the teachers look good,” Pellissier said. “It’s another exciting year.”
A native of Pensacola, Fla., McElroy said his best friend’s brother was in special education. He found himself volunteering extensively in summer programs for special education students and 10 of his last 11 years have been involved with students with special needs.
In the “Strategies” class, McElroy said, some of the students just need a little help with mastering English and others need more training. For the majority, their stumbling block is essay writing.
Students have become scared of their own words and don’t know how to express themselves, but they are comfortable sharing themselves in writing, he said.
McElroy said he’s a poet and thinks that’s a great way for students to deal with personal issues and depression.
“Writing becomes a way to get outside your own head,” McElroy said. “It can relieve some of that pressure.”
McElroy said he was offered teaching positions in three area school districts at the same time. He did his teacher interview with Merced High administrators while on vacation in Southern California and felt the job here would be the best fit for him. He said he has discovered he is most comfortable teaching English at the high school level.
“It was an atmosphere of welcome, even over the phone,” McElroy said.