Harford County Public Schools declared May 17 as “Herr Rick Jones Day” at Fallston High School. The reason? Jones, a 71-year-old German teacher at the school, is completing his 50th year of teaching in the county school system.
A brief ceremony was held to commemorate the golden milestone, an accomplishment no other teacher at the high school has achieved, according to the school system. Hundreds of people attended the ceremony, during which Jones received many gifts.
Jones was presented with an ornate wooden box with the German flag painted on top. Inside the decorative box were dozens of letters written by former and current colleagues as well as students from Jones’ past.
Jones’ passion for the German language comes from his ancestry, he said. His mother was born in Germany, and all of his relatives live there. He decided to become a German teacher to express his creativity, he said.
“Being a teacher, a German teacher, allows me to be creative,” said Jones. “I find that my instruction can be limited only by my imagination.”
Jones began his career in 1972, teaching German at Bel Air High School. He learned about the position when the school system came to his college, the University of Scranton, for open job interviews. Five years later, he left Bel Air for Fallston High School, which opened in 1977.
Jones said the Bel Air teaching post was the first job he was offered. But one of the reasons he accepted was the small-town feel to Bel Air, which gave him a sense of peace. At the time, it had a population of only 6,000 and the high school had 300 students.
Jones has spent the last 45 years at Fallston High, teaching German, coaching tennis for several seasons and directing 28 theatrical performances on the Fallston High stage, including “Little Women: The Musical” just a few weeks ago.
Jones said he’s stayed as long as he has because of the creative freedom the school system has given him. He recalled that when he first started teaching, the curriculum was based on a single book, and that gave him a lot of flexibility.
“I could really do anything I wanted to do with the curriculum,” Jones said. “This gave me the opportunity to be as creative as I wanted to be. There was not a curriculum to go by, but a book.”
In 1991, the school system requested a curriculum for German studies, and Jones wrote it.
“From the time I started to now, I have seen a great deal of growth in the curriculum and the teaching,” Jones said. “I wrote the curriculum and it has helped with instruction. When we used to get together, we were able to crystalize our instruction because at the very beginning there was none of that going on. I like to see the growth of instruction.”
Many of his current students enjoy his class because of his creativity. Jones keeps his students engaged by incorporating nuggets from his life, movies and other sources into his lessons, he said. His daughter also helped him with the development of many of class activities.
“I do enjoy coming to his class every other day,” said Ben Sellers, one of Jones’ students. “He has a more genuine teaching style. It’s something to look forward to.”
Jones’ teaching style has inspired others to go down the same path, including Saxon Brown, a former student who is now a colleague at the school.
“Undoubtedly, the fun we had in class, and the way we felt about him has definitely inspired me to become a teacher,” said Brown. “Jones managed to mix work and play. He has shown that you can have a job for 50 years and enjoy it.”
Jones does not plan to retire anytime soon. At the end of the ceremony, he announced that he would be returning to Fallston for his 51st year. The news brought cheers from everyone in attendance.
Jones says he’s motivated to continue teaching by his desire to create new ways to teach German, and by the strong support system in his department. Both factors, along with the chance to stage plays for the school, energize him, he said.
“Why would I retire? I still have the energy to do this,” Jones said. “I am in an ideal situation.”
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As Jones reflects on his teaching career, he says he has received the most joy from his students’ success and the satisfaction he gets from teaching.
“I would say making it to 50 years was my biggest accomplishment,” Jones said. “But I never thought of this as an accomplishment. Everyone is doing all of this stuff because I came to work every day.”
Before he retires, he hopes to have more students receive a four or five on the German Advanced Placement test — five is the highest score — and to see the HCPS foreign language department get an evaluator who understands German.
“German is in a unique position in the department,” Jones said. “I would love to see a person come in to observe me that knows something about language instruction.”
Along with his teaching duties, Jones is planning next year’s plays and will continue to mentor students outside the classroom as a part-time driver’s education teacher.
When he does retire from the school system, he plans to teach driver’s ed full-time, and spend more time with his wife, son and daughter.
“I owe a lot of my success as a teacher to my wife, who has had to put up with a lot,” Jones said. “The hours of work at home, the conferences which I attended, the presentations which I have given at conferences, all the time away. I plan when I retire to give that time back to her.”