Reed Jones, eighth-grade American history teacher at Northeastern High School, makes class fun by using his humor, storytelling and music. His humor and “carefully curated sarcasm” mixed with caring and keeping things light is what helps him keep students interested in class.
As a teacher, Jones tries to be as genuine as he can with his students to develop relationships and help them feel there’s a reason to listen and engage in class, as well as that responsibility and work don’t have to mean “boring.”
“Since the last five letters of history spell story, my class is full of stories, and I do my best to help my students to see the interaction between America’s stories and their own lived experiences. I often do that with humor, but there are many ways to accomplish that end, and as long as you’re not being false with kids, I think you can connect,” Jones said.
Not only does Jones use storytelling, he incorporates music into his class because it can be easier to remember. He also sometimes brings in his guitar or banjo to play to help bring the content to life.
Jones said it’s about trying to make the content personal and memorable, and he thinks music does that.
“I may play the same song for them a few days in a row as they walk in and complete their warm-up, that way it becomes the earworm that becomes the soundtrack to the rest of the days. Then we connect it to a concept or idea we are covering in class and I think they understand the idea more deeply and remember it better than if I had used a more traditional teaching method,” he said.
Incorporating all of these aspects into class is satisfying for Jones because it makes teaching more meaningful and becomes personal. Engagement and learning doesn’t happen without connection so that is how Jones said he is able to make that connection with his students.
Szekacs is an intervention specialist for grades 9-12 in a cross-categorical classroom at Clark-Shawnee Local Schools. She started a coffee shop last year, and will continue the shop this year with her students to learn life and social skills.
The coffee shop began last school year after Principal Chad Mossing suggested the start of a coffee cart to make deliveries to the staff.
“We needed a work study class for my students with special needs at the high school... We started the coffee shop during the 2021-22 school year to enable my students to improve their job skills and practice customer service,” Szekacs said.
Jobs are divided by each student’s abilities, and they have their own uniforms to wear while preparing the drinks and making deliveries. Staff either call or email to order a coffee. The orders are typed in a spreadsheet and displayed on a TV screen where the students can tally the orders for coffee, tea or hot chocolate.
The teacher aides then guide students through the steps of preparing the cups and students also decorate the sleeves to give each cup a personal touch.
“Our students enjoy the entire process. They are excited to serve the teachers and staff,” Szekacs said. “The coffee shop is the highlight of our day. Our students are learning social skills, money math and work ethics... The project makes a huge difference for our students. The kids are very proud of their work.”
The shop, located in Szekacs’ classroom and includes an industrial size coffee maker and a kitchen stocked with coffee supplies, will start in a couple of weeks to give students time to adjust to their new schedule and classroom. The proceeds are used to purchase supplies for the classroom and for field trips.
About this series
This Springfield News-Sun series highlights how teachers are making a difference in the classroom. Sunday’s story featured three educators, and the Springfield News-Sun will feature other teachers through Tuesday.