Pete Simoncini nominated Lissa Jones for Class Acts. Simoncini said Jones is one of the most outstanding teachers he has known. In addition to teaching economics, government, humanities, and Advanced Placement art history and European history, Jones serves as the coach of Oakdale High's championship Academic Decathlon team. Jones' students regularly excel on national and state tests, Simoncini said. He added that he can think of no other teacher who is more deserving of this recognition.
• Name: Lissa Jones
• Age: 37
• City of residence: Modesto
• Occupation: History teacher, currently teaching AP European history, AP art history, economics and government, and serving as the Academic Decathlon coach
• Family: Husband, Chris Jones; son, Adam, 4, and daughter, Avery, 21 months
• Education background: Graduate of Grace Davis High School, 1990; UCLA, bachelor of arts degree in history, 1994
• Teaching experience: 12 years, all at Oakdale High School
Why did you get into teaching? I suppose it was a calling. My mother was a teacher in the Stockton Unified School District, and my sister, Leigh Ann Gobel, has been teaching here at Oakdale High for almost two decades.
What is your favorite thing about being a teacher? Hands down, working with teenagers. I absolutely love spending time with teenagers, and I love being able to teach them about the world they are about to enter as young adults. I have taught just about every subject my department offers, and that constant shift in curriculum is what gets me excited about my job every day.
What is the most challenging part of your job? Probably the pacing schedule. I would love to be able to "birdwalk" more in classroom discussions because I think students have so much to say about life. But, with state standards that must be covered by a specific date, regardless of day-to-day interactions, interruptions and complications, "the show must go on."
What is the most important lesson you've learned? Love what you do. When I graduated from college, I considered a career outside of teaching, primarily in hopes of making more money. However, there has yet to be a school year in which I haven't been fulfilled professionally and personally by what I do every day. The lure of a more lucrative career has no meaning when you get real happiness from what you do.
What is your favorite teaching tool or activity? Class discussion. I like to know what the students are thinking. You can tell so much from student questions and comments, you can see when the higher-order thinking skills are kicking in by the types of comments and questions you get from the room. You see the excitement in their faces, and you know they "get it."
What's next in your classroom? I have no idea! I always plan what we are going to do, and then, based on the student vibe in the room, I can change my plans in a second.
What advice do you have for students? Give it your best effort. You can ALWAYS be proud of yourself when you know you tried your best. There is no disappointment when you gave it your all. There is, however, long-lasting disappointment and guilt if you do the bare minimum to get by.
What advice do you have for parents? Talk to your kids. Ask them what they are learning, ask them their opinions. They are aware of so much more than we adults realize, and sometimes their ideas might even be better than our own!
What will it take to improve academic success in the valley?
A shift in parent ideology across the nation, not just in the valley. School is something that initiates the process of learning, it is not an end product. A family must place importance upon learning for the students to care as well.
How do you try to reach students not interested in school? I try to show students the relevance of the topic we are discussing. In other words, why it matters. One of the subjects I teach is economics, and given the state of our current economic crisis, I try to show students some of the reasons we got into the mess we are in, and what individuals can do to avoid the same mistakes in the future. For example, I give my seniors a budget project in which they must figure out their monthly salary and expenses. They look for cars, get insurance quotes, try to find a place to live, contribute to a retirement portfolio, estimate tax contributions, etc. Many of my students are surprised at the cost of life, and many become far more aware consumers because of this project.
What one area should schools put more emphasis on? Alternative paths to advanced education and training. We sometimes emphasize college as the only option to obtain success past high school. There are many more routes, and they would be more appealing to students if they were emphasized more.
If you could change one thing about the current educational system, what would it be and why? More funding for class size reduction! It is so difficult when there are 40 kids in one class period. You lose connections with kids, you miss the details when you are managing so many students in one school day. It may seem like just a complaint to make my job easier, but smaller classes make my teaching better. In my AP classes, I have smaller ratios, about 25-to-1. I can zero in on their academic and personal needs when there are fewer students in the room.
What would surprise people about your job? Teenagers are really fun to be around!
What are your future plans? To try to continue to maintain a balance between raising my family and being the best, most enthusiastic educator I can be.