The Great Mr. Jordan

Carmichael, CA  |  Story and photos by Jacqueline Fox
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Jim Jordan, long-time yearbook and writing teacher at Del Campo High School is leaving after a 40-year career in education.

Del Campo Teacher ‘Retires’ After 40 Years of Service

Carmichael, CA (MPG) - When Jim Jordan first began teaching yearbook and writing at Del Campo High School, photos were developed in a dark room, on film, while stories, writing and other homework assignments were composed on electric typewriters, and students had to use a pay phone if they needed to call mom for a pickup.

As he prepares to end a 40-year teaching career, 35 at Del Campo, Jordan’s home away from home, Room 17, is eerily quiet. It is summer. The desks, even some of the paperwork and books his last roster of students may have been working from and or on appear as if they were frozen in time and sitting that way since the last dismissal bell rang out for the year.

Pasted to a white board is a large, hand-made sign from his students, a love letter in big print addressed to “The Great Mr. Jordan,” with hearts and inside jokes scrawled out in purple, pink and black marker.  On one side is a header entitled “Kids who don’t love Mr. Jordan.”  Beneath that, someone has drawn a large line cutting diagonally across the plane of a circle in red ink.

And the feeling is mutual.

“My motivation for teaching in high school these last 40 years is pretty simple: You stay because you love high school kids,” says Jordan, who will take a short vacation before returning later in summer to pack up the room, hand over his keys and embark on his next chapter.  “They are so talented and have so much to offer.”

Jordan, now 61, earned a teaching credential from Sacramento State University and also holds a Masters in Writing.  He officially entered academia at Mira Loma High School in 1977, despite vows to avoid the field, largely because he grew up with a father who served as a school superintendent in Auburn for many years.  “I wanted to do anything but get into education,” Jordan says.

Between 1980 and 1981, Jordan was straddling two part-time teaching positions, one at Mira Loma, the other at Del Campo.  In 1982 he was offered a full-time position at Del Campo, launching a 35-year tenure that has paralleled the arrival of significant cultural and technological advances, including the arrival of the first personal computer, laser printer, the “Super Information Highway” (also known as The Internet), and perhaps the biggest game-changer of all, the introduction of smart phones into mainstream culture.

“When we first started yearbook here at Del Campo we were writing stories on electric typewriters, manually pasting them up and then shipping them out to be printed,” says Jordan, sitting atop a desk in room 17, sporting a pair of flip-flops, shorts and a bright blue polo shirt with the Del Campo logo.

With the invention of the PC and Apple’s LaserWriter introduced in 1985 to the mass market, came unprecedented opportunities for retooling the way things got done, not just for students, but for Jordan and his fellow educators.  By summer of 1986, Del Campo invested roughly $10,000 on two Macintosh PC’s, the LaserWriter II and what was then known as a “WYSIWYG” (What You See Is What You Get) software package called PageMaker, and, although the darkroom for yearbook would remain open for several more years, nothing was ever the same again.

“The big breakthrough was the arrival of the laser printer that could scale type,” says Jordan. “It changed everything for us, especially on yearbook.  We literally learned how to produce yearbook in a whole new way, which meant a lot of research and education for ourselves.  It was a creative explosion for all of us.  For the first time, kids had the exact same tools that all the professionals had.”

Jordan fell in love with the idea of writing, specifically teaching him as a bonus course, but one he grew to love teaching, particularly because of it, while in college, and carved out a career showing students the power of words. Yearbook came to his love of photography.    

“I took a writing class in college and for the first time it hit me that you could actually teach people how to become better writers,” Jordan said. “I fell in love with writing and the concept of being able to instruct students in the subject.  And yearbook was something that fit well into that arena, plus, since no one else wanted to teach it at the time, I looked at it as job security. But I have grown very fond of the course and teaching it.”

Jordan’s own three children were students at Del Campo, in fact, they all were editors on yearbook during their time at the school.  

“I had them all in my class and it was an absolute joy,” Jordan says. “They were all editors on yearbook and they really loved it. It was amazing to be able to work with them.”

Other former students of Jordan’s include Joe Derisi, an immunologist and recipient of the 2004 DeRisi MacArthur fellow; CNN host and television personality Lisa Ling; journalist and writer Laura Ling; and KXTV ABC 10 news anchor Cristina Mendonsa. 

In addition to technology, says Jordan, what’s also changed at Del Campo is the composition of the district in which he’s spent his career, which, fueled by several cultural shifts that have altered the way teachers and students interact.  Those include a spike during the 1970s and 1980s in the divorce and poverty rates, and housing price changes that resulted in Del Campo’s transformation from a neighborhood school to a commuter school.

“This used to be a neighborhood school, all the teachers lived in the attendance area,” said Jordan. “That’s not the case anymore.”

And, with these changes also came new, emotional landscapes for students that teachers, like Jordan, have had to learn to navigate differently and, admittedly, not always as efficiently as they’d prefer.

“Kids have a lot more personal struggles because more of them are not living in stable home environments,” says Jordan. “There have been times, looking back, when I know I could have put the endgame or the ‘assignment’ on the backburner, and paid closer attention to what the personal issues with a student were, spent more time getting to know everything about them I possibly could. I think that’s the aspect of being with high schoolers that I’ll miss the most.”

What has remained constant, says Jordan, is his love for the craft of teaching. By the time the class of 2018 arrives for school in fall, he will have packed up Room 17 and said goodbye to Del Campo.  But by no means is he done with teaching, let alone, ready to retire.  Jordan says will continue private consulting on yearbook production to fellow educators and students, as he has done in summer for several years previously.  In addition, he will take his fifth trip to Zambia, where he’s been involved with the development of a Christian-based school in cooperation with his church back home.

“I am not retiring. I’m just getting ready for the next chapter,” Jordan said.  “I can’t imagine not working with students in some capacity, especially high school students. But I guess my legacy from Del Campo, or what I wish to be my legacy, is that none of my students are ever able to say that they didn’t learn something while in my class.”