This month’s teacher spotlight is on Mr. Jeff Caron, or “Cash Money Caron” as some of his students lovingly call him. He has been teaching social studies here at Mayfair for 17 years. He’s taught eighth-grade history throughout his whole tenure here at Mayfair (as well as at the advanced level for awhile); he’s had a few high school classes here and there, including AP Government and Politics, which he is currently teaching his third year of.
Mr. Caron has “always been interested in history from a young age,” which he credits to his father. When he went into college at Cal-State Long Beach, he wasn’t really sure about what he wanted to study. Studying political science was really “the only thing that seemed really interesting” to him. After finishing up his degree in that, he wasn’t 100% on what to do next. Studying to become a lawyer was one option he weighed, but he eventually came to the conclusion that teaching was the best path for him. He was familiar with what teaching was, and it would give him a prime opportunity to spread his love for history and how important politics are.
Between high school, college, and a teaching credential, there were a few gap years for Mr. Caron that he spent working at grocery stores, building his relationship with his now wife, and traveling a lot. Throughout our conversation, Mr. Caron mentioned traveling a fair amount. One of his favorite adventures that he recounted was when he and his now wife bought a Volkswagen bus in the summer of 1987, and they drove it cross-country. As he continued talking about his time as a young adult, he seemed to emphasize really how formative all of that time spent out and about really was for him. He says: “this sounds a bit cliche, but going away somewhere for an extended period of time will make you feel like a different person. When you come home, you’ll feel different, for at the very least a short amount of time.” He recommends that all young adults should try and get some sort of experience away from home for a significant amount of time, whether that be through college, a long adventure/vacation, or really anything, because he feels that it can have a very profound and positive effect on you at a time when long-term identity isn’t the clearest and you start establishing who your adult self is going to be.
Being able to provide insightful wisdom like that is something that Mr. Caron is also able to do in the classroom, so I was curious to hear what he has to say about his time specifically as a teacher. Although he still has his lesson plans from the previous Mayfair eighth-grade advanced history teacher, technology has definitely changed how he teaches. The increase in popularity of the internet has greatly influenced how information is exchanged. He noted that the way that history and politics are thought of have also changed in the past few years, which has impacted how he teaches his classes. The study of history itself has “grown so much because of different kinds of data being brought to light, and there’s been a lot more discussion and studying of stories from different points of view that previously weren’t even taken into serious consideration.”
Mr. Caron noted about specifically the last few years how “the age of Trump made teaching history and politics easier in some ways, and more difficult in other ways.” He notes that “politics have become pop culture. It’s mainstream now. More people have given politics more thought.” He noted that there was an essay question that was being considered for the AP Government test that was about Taylor Swift’s efforts to get (specifically younger) people to vote. He had this to say about how last summer saw a lot of attention being put on civil and social rights movements: “There was this sort of racial reckoning last summer that occurred, and I felt that it put some urgency into what I was teaching. Everyone watching someone die over the course of nine minutes fundamentally changed the way that people have perceived police, the government, justice, race relations… it really brought to the forefront things I’ve been trying to teach and discuss for years now.”
Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted Mr. Caron’s year in the (online) class. He had this to say: “Although sometimes it was slightly overwhelming, I really do miss the sort of chaos and spontaneity of in-person learning. There would maybe be topics I wouldn’t be sure how to tackle, but a student would raise their hand or start a conversation, and the class for the day would go in a direction I wouldn’t have expected, yet we would’ve been able to have a really productive discussion about something. Online, we aren’t getting any of that.” According to him the kids just don’t participate as much this year. He made it clear he understands the dejectedness students have been feeling, but it still saddens him at how microscopic the student participation has been (especially considering how much his students tend to get out of discussions).
He did point out that there has been one great upside to teaching this year: he’s gotten to become both better friends and coworkers with his fellow eighth-grade history teachers: Mr. Lopez, Mr. Fong, and Mr. Malonzo. Mr. Caron said that “having four people working together and on the same page can really make tackling something difficult like our current situation a lot easier. They’ve also helped me a lot out on the technology side of things.” I asked them to comment on Mr. Caron, and they had nothing but extremely positive things to say about the Mayfair icon. Mr. Lopez said: “In your first year of teaching, you get a mentor, and Mr. Caron was mine. He was a really good and supportive mentor. He was there to listen and help with my problems. He really is a veteran when it comes to teaching;” Mr. Malonzo said: “as a teacher who is still pretty new to Mayfair, Mr. Caron has been a really big help in making me feel comfortable on campus, and he’s given me some really great advice on any problems I’ve had;” Mr. Fong said: “When I first started teaching at Mayfair, Mr. Caron was my mentor. Fourteen years later, he continues to be an example to me.”
When asked to recall some of his favorite moments teaching, Caron brought up the D.C. trip he led for eighth-grade students for many years, and how he was able to form a special bond with the trips’ bus driver Tyrone Brown. Although planning the trips could be difficult, he feels that he was able to provide a really great experience for the students that went. Some of his other favorite memories as a teacher have been having someone come into the classroom that dressed up as a Civil War soldier who was able to teach students about the Civil War in a more tangible way than just watching videos and reading. The recreations of significant but maybe less talked about moments in American history such as the Seneca Falls Women’s Convention and Impeachment of Andrew Johnson were some of his other favorite memories.
As for the future, Mr. Caron says that he has been thinking that retirement is coming at some point in the next few years. He of course wants to have some sort of awesome vacation to celebrate; “there’s a sort of artistry or creativity that comes with teaching, and I think I’m really going to miss that.” He also had this very interesting and thought-provoking remark when discussing retirement: “I’m going to have to face the difficult question of ‘If I’m not a teacher, what am I?’ We identify with our work; we are what we do.” It seemed that a recurring theme throughout our conversation was identity. Mr. Caron told his story about how he formed his identity as a young adult traveling a lot, and now he’s once again close to a time where he’s facing his identity. As someone who’s a senior and soon going to college, it was very interesting to hear this sort of insight on this sometimes difficult topic to tackle. I think that it not only raises some interesting talking points, but it’s also a great reflection of Mr. Caron. He’s introspective, analytical, and very thoughtful. You can tell he really cares about others and making a positive impact on his students. Just going off of what his fellow teachers and what I’ve heard other students say, he’s a beloved figure in the Mayfair community.
It makes me very happy and hopeful for the future knowing that Mr. Caron has been able to teach as many students as he has, and I hope that whatever the future has in store for him treats him with the same positivity and care that he has given to all of his students.