Class Acts: Riverbank High's Gerald (Jerry) DeYoung

Jennifer Hodges nominated Jerry DeYoung for Class Acts. Hodges said DeYoung has a great sense of humor and a great rapport with the kids. He cares about their success but also tells them how it is. DeYoung is very involved at school and wears a lot of hats, Hodges added.

Name: Gerald (Jerry) DeYoung

Age: 65

City of residence: Oakdale

Occupation: Teacher at Riverbank High School

Family: Wife, Lynette, married 41 years; eight children, five boys and three girls, ages 18 to 38

Education background: Bachelor's and master's degrees in music education from VanderCook College of Music in Chicago. Also completed multiple courses in government and economics at numerous colleges and universities.

Teaching experience: Instrumental and vocal music instructor in Hull, Iowa, for one year; nine years teaching instrumental music to fifth- through 12th-graders at Bellflower Christian Schools in Bellflower; 31 years at Riverbank High School. The first 10 years at Riverbank High, I did band and choir along with some social studies; the last 21 years I have taught government, economics and AP economics.

Why did you get into teaching? I love learning and I love helping others to learn.

What is your favorite thing about being a teacher? I really love the students and the interactions with the students. It is such a rewarding experience to see them gain knowledge and learn to use it. It is especially rewarding to see someone struggle with a concept and, as I work to find new ways to explain it, to see their eyes light up when they grasp it and understand.

What is the most challenging part of your job? The state and federal government interference in education is very discouraging. The rules and ideals are set as if teaching were an assembly line and all the students go down the line and come out homogenized and educated. Students are individual people with individual needs, and we must meet them at their point of need. We cannot expect, nor desire, that every student go to a four-year college.

What is the most important lesson you've learned? I am still learning the important lessons. I think for me it is to be patient and to be more concerned about the students' needs and less about how the scores of those students will reflect on me. In addition, I do not take myself too seriously. In this business, one needs a good sense of humor.

What is your favorite teaching tool or activity? After the students have learned economic concepts in a certain area, I have a class simulation supporting those concepts. Everyone can be involved no matter what their abilities are. Afterward they write what they have learned from the simulation. The kids love it and I love it.

What advice do you have for students? Don't believe it when people tell you that you can be anything you want to be if you just try hard enough. It simply is not the truth. Look at the God-given skills you have and the things that give you a sense of accomplishment and go for it. Each person is important and has something important to add to society. Not everyone should go to college; however, everyone probably will need more training beyond high school to be secure in the work force. We need a lot more good truck drivers than brain surgeons. No job is less or more important than another.

What advice do you have for parents? Support your child's education. Go to back-to-school night, open house and any activities in which your child is involved. You will have this child only a short time, and they will move on. Show them that education is important and if they are doing their best, no matter the grade, that you are proud of them and love them. Even though they may not admit it to you and, at times, seem to be contrary, most kids want to please their mom and dad.

What will it take to improve academic success in the valley? I believe that in order to have academic success, each party must accept his or her responsibility in the process of education instead of pointing fingers. Teachers must do the best job of teaching that they can, parents must be as supportive as they can be and students must be as diligent as they can be. With such a spirit of cooperation, we can't help but be successful.

How do you reach students not interested in school? Learning is hard work and sometimes very boring. That is a fact. I try to make my classes as exciting as I can by mixing laughter with hard work. I am up against computers and entertainment. Indeed most days I must put on a "class act." I have a responsibility to teach with passion, excitement and energy. I also must recognize that I can't change others. If a student is not interested, I can't change him or her. The only person I can control is me.

What one area should schools put more emphasis on? I don't know that I could pick one thing. I am very concerned when students at the high school level lose out on electives, which they love, and have to take multiple courses in subjects that are difficult for them. It is like punishing them twice. They can't be in the elective and must be in the classes that make them feel like a loser. Somehow, the electives must be available to all students.

If you could change one thing about the current educational system, what would it be and why? I know this is controversial, but I firmly believe in different diplomas for different students. We should have a pre-college diploma for those who take college prep and AP classes, a trade-tech diploma for those who take the minimum graduation requirements and focus on building construction or ag welding etc., a general diploma for those who do the minimum requirements for graduation and plan to go to schools for culinary arts, truck driving, beautician school, etc. In addition, there should be a certificate of attendance for some students who cannot complete the requirements to graduate, but attend regularly and on time, who put in a good effort, and never receive an unsatisfactory citizenship or get suspended. These persons will succeed in the real world because they have the attitude needed for success.

What would surprise people about your job? It might be that I really seldom have any difficulty with student behavior. I see horror stories about how bad students are and how much difficulty teachers have in the classroom. That is not my experience. I genuinely respect each of my students for who they are and their level of achievement and I believe they respect me in return.

What are your future plans? I plan to retire from teaching next year at the age of 66. I'm no longer as good a teacher as I formerly was. I plan to spend my days working on my small beef cattle business and spending time with my lovely grandchildren. They all know they are the best grandchildren in the world.