By Dana Thompson
“Would you believe me if I said I wasn’t from around here?” asks Jerry Irons in a heavy and unmistakable Texas accent.
He laughs as he leans back in a worn leather chair at his desk. The computer sitting to the left is one of the only things remaining in his office. After 15 years as a Visiting Professor the University of Dallas, Irons’ bookshelves have been packed-up and only a few pictures remain. He’s retiring.
He joined the UD Education Department after becoming a professor emeritus of Elementary Education at Stephen F. Austen State University in Nacogdoches. Among the courses he teaches are math concepts, principles of elementary education and integrated curriculum. As the department chair, he has also worked along side the other teachers in the department, preparing and responding to the recent accreditation audit.
When reflecting upon his experience as a teacher here at UD, he acknowledges one of the University’s biggest draws, class sizes.
“One of first things that hit me about this place was the size,” says Irons. “At Stephen F. Austin there are about 12,000 students and you don’t get to know them very well. Here, you get to know the students because you see them everywhere, in class, on the mall, at lunch.”
Irons would certainly know; he spends an immense amount of time working with students and guiding their hands-on learning.
In the Classroom
“One of the first things we do when students join the education department is put them in with children,” Irons says. “That’s a sure fire way to see if they really want to be a teacher.”
Students with degrees in education take a math and science practicum with Irons that total 36 hours in a classroom with students. This does not include other practicum courses and their semester of student teaching, which Irons oversees.
More often than not, Irons says students at the University of Dallas excel at student teaching and shine in the classroom. The department works with Irving ISD, giving students diverse settings and experiences, which is advantageous for new teachers heading into their first classroom.
“Our students get to see about every angle,” says Irons of the student teaching experience.
As may be expected, there have been some exceptional students in the past 15 years whose natural teaching ability stands out in Irons’ memory.
“I recall one young man. He was in the perfect setting, working with second graders. His pace was lightning.” Irons smiles as he recalls the young man. “I was amazed. He made five transitions, did five different activities with these kids in an hour, hour and a half.”
Sometimes however, it takes a little longer for students to find their place in the classroom.
“My second year here, there was a young lady who was having a tough time with discipline in her classroom,” Irons remembers. “As a teacher, you try to offer support and guide the student as to what they should do, but sometimes they have to come to things on their own. One day, it finally hit her: she was the adult in the classroom. Everything went just fine after that. These days she’s teaching in Irving and doing a crackerjack job.”
Admittedly, there have been students who thought they wanted to be teachers, only to discover that it is not their vocation. Irons is quick to acknowledge that teaching is not for everyone. In fact, you must be a particular someone.
“You gotta have a passion for it,” says Irons knowingly. “You gotta like people. You gotta be excited by the excitement of your students. You gotta be smart, but that’s never a problem around here.”
Irons does not shy away when asked about the undeniable responsibility that weighs upon the shoulders of those entrusted with the education of children.
“Teachers make hundreds of decisions each day and every one of them has to be right,” he says with a decided nod.
Like any job, Irons reflects that the troubles of the day must be always placed within the proper context.
“It’s fun if you don’t think about it,” he laughs. “You can’t take frustrations home with you or you’ll burn out, quickly.”
When it comes to the preparation and education that the department provides, Irons believes that the size and character of the University makes the difference in the experience of both teachers and students.
“Because it’s the small size it is, teachers have a more personal stake in the students and we get to see the results in every student that graduates.”
Like many in the department, Irons is proud of the accomplishments of the students who graduate and their widely touted success.
“It’s partly the curriculum, and it’s partly the students. Our students have a 100 percent certification rate and that is something to be proud of.”
Irons will not be returning to the 40 cows, 2 bulls and 20 calves on his cattle ranch in East Texas, though it’s not difficult to picture him doing so.
“I’ve had a cattle ranch ever since my daddy in-law died, and I sure do enjoy it.”
Dr. Irons visits his herd on a weekly basis. He feeds the cattle. He mows the pastures. He mends the fences.
“Sometimes I just sit and look, count ‘em. I’ve always like ‘em.”
Though he’ll visit, he has grown roots here in Dallas and plans to stay. This is where his children are, his grandchildren. In fact, he and his wife had been coming to Dallas to see musicals on Saturday nights in the summer before they lived here.
“I’ll have the “Honey Do’s, participate in church and do a little volunteering,” says Irons of his upcoming free time. “I’ll be busy,” he smiles, “but I’ll miss teaching.”