Richard Jones shares grammar passion with school

The Newtonite

by Julia Oran
“He is the undisputed ‘grammar guru’ of the English department,” said English teacher Nick Grant, describing English teacher Richard Jones, who is retiring after teaching at this school for 12 of his 46 as a teacher.
“If there were a Jeopardy-style grammar competition that pitted Mr. Jones against the rest of the department, Mr. Jones would win easily.”
In addition, Grant said Jones “has sponsored numerous friendly seasonal competitions for interested faculty,” which “help to break up the too-regular rhythms of school and encourage faculty members to engage in laughter, debate and common interests.”
According to Grant, “For a number of teachers at Newton North, Mr. Jones helped to make this school a great place to be, and his energy, sense of humor and dedication to teaching influenced many of his colleagues.”
“In many ways,” Grant said, “he was a ‘teacher of teachers,’ but also a friend, a peer and just a great guy to work with. He will be missed.”
English teacher Jim Lallas said, “He is a great friend, a great teacher, someone to whom we have all turned for corroboration, coaching, support, and humor.”
Overall, Lallas said, “He’s been a very good and dependable friend to us in the department, and we’re going to miss him.”
English department head Melissa Dilworth said Jones has a “deep and rich knowledge of both classical and contemporary literature.”
In addition, she said, “He helps students see literature and poetry as a lens through which they will glean a better understanding of themselves and the world around them.”
Dilworth added, “We will miss his insight, scholarship and wit. He loves a good discussion, one where opinions are offered, contradicted, honed and, ultimately, changed.
“His passion for teaching has exposed students and adults alike to transformative world of literature.”
Jones was born and raised in Lakewood, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, graduated from Lakewood High School in 1961.
Even though his mother was a teacher, he had “not really considered it as a profession for himself,” Jones said.
In fact, after high school, Jones went to Princeton University to become a medical doctor, majoring in biology and morning in English. He earned an Artium Baccalaureatus (A.B.) Degree from Princeton.
However, throughout college, Jones said he took many English courses, which he enjoyed, and he decided there was “something impersonal” about being a doctor.
He said he then decided he would “try teaching for a couple of years.”
He chose to teach English “because it involves genuine elements of living,” and he loves the “satisfaction as students learn,” said Jones.
“It’s important to create an energy and an interest to really learn,” he said.
He further explained, “There is something in many poems, plays and novels that connect with things that really matter to many students and really connect to authentic concerns.”
After college, according to Jones, he went to a number of graduate courses, but “the list is too long” to include all of them.
In the ’70s, Jones said he was teaching near Kent State in Ohio, so he enrolled in a master’s program in English at Kent State.
Then, in 1998, Jones completed a master’s program for teaching English at Columbia University, from which he earned a master’s degree.
In the fall of ’99, Jones said he came to this school because he “knew a couple of people, it had a great reputation and things just fell into place.”
He said he was also “interested in trying something a little different” because he had previously only taught English at private or boarding schools.
Former English department head Brenda Keegan hired him and since then, he said, he has taught every curriculum level for all grades.
Jones said even though he was a “veteran,” the “early weeks” at this school made his “head spin” from “the swirl that is Newton North—all of the concerns and considerations were refreshing but a little confusing.”
For the past three or four years, though, Jones said he has been teaching two freshmen English classes, two senior English classes and Propaganda Techniques, a senior elective.
“I love each of the four primary books in freshmen English,” which are The Odyssey, Romeo and Juliet, Of Mice and Men and The Catcher in the Rye, he said.
Even though Jones has only taught Moby Dick once at this school, it is his “favorite book of all” because it takes a while to read, but it is worth the time, he said.
Jones said he began teaching Propaganda Techniques in 2002 because “it was exactly right up my alley.”
Looking back, Jones said, “One of the joys of the teaching career is that it starts over every September.”
As a result, he said, “You can try to correct mistakes, which is an advantage and pleasure to teaching.”
However, Jones added, “I don’t think a teacher is every satisfied that they have completely anticipated every confusion or misstep in learning anything.”
His regret, he said, is “I never taught students to love what we’re reading as much as I do.”
Overall, “I’m worried about how much I will miss being in the classroom because it is stimulating, satisfying and personally therapeutic.”
Jones also said he will miss his “colleagues, close friends and their daily interactions.”
After retirement, Jones said he has “no specific plans—unwind, maybe some writing, possibly service work.”
Jones said, “I hope the importance of authentic teaching and learning and genuine relationships in the building would be something I might have had a positive influence on.”