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Looking back with gratitude

Jim Jenkins (M.Ed. ’79) on VCU SOE’s lasting impact

Jim Jenkins, taken this past summer while hiking Hadrian's Wall in northern England with his son.

Jim Jenkins, taken this past summer while hiking Hadrian's Wall in northern England with his son.

When Jim Jenkins (M.Ed. ’79) started attending the VCU School of Education (VCU SOE) in 1973, he knew pretty quickly that it was going to be a uniquely rewarding experience.

“One of my first impressions was how quickly the school began providing hands-on experience for students,” he said. “At other schools, students might get three years into the program before being exposed to any practical experience. By then, they might not even want to go into that field anymore. It could be three years wasted.”

“At VCU, it was hands-on almost immediately. We were put in the fire early, which paid off tremendously,” said Jenkins.

The teachers with whom he worked in the schools quickly made an impression on Jenkins as well. One of his fondest memories is working with Dr. Stanley Baker, a student teaching advisor he worked with at George Mason Elementary in Richmond as an undergraduate. The lessons Dr. Baker taught him have stuck with Jenkins throughout his teaching career.

“Dr. Baker taught me that it isn’t possible to tell where a good teacher’s influence begins and where it ends,” said Jenkins. “Dr. Baker wasn’t wedded to procedures or protocols. He insisted that teachers be decision-makers who constantly work for the betterment of students. That philosophy has served me well.”

"Being taught by words and example [in the School of Education] to be diligent and thoughtful about my profession has been invaluable.” – Jim Jenkins

Jenkins recalled a particular discussion that Dr. Baker led with a group of students after one of them had been called a derogatory name. Dr. Baker began the discussion with a simple, thoughtful question about the person who showed disrespect.

“He said, ‘Why do you suppose he said that?’ I’ll always remember that,” Jenkins said. I have not condoned derogatory comments in my career – I never will – but I was so impressed by Dr. Baker’s reaction. It helped to make me a more reflective teacher.”

Jenkins also remembers Dr. Nancy Borax as someone who helped to make him a better teacher. In 1974 when Jenkins was a sophomore, the Dolch word list was still being used extensively in elementary schools. Created by Edward Dolch in 1936, the list contained 200 frequently-used words taken mostly from children’s books. The idea was that teaching students to memorize a then-38-year-old list would improve their reading skills.

“Dr. Borax distributed the Dolch list on the first day of class and instructed the students to tear it up,” Jenkins said. “A discussion followed on being thoughtful about our resources.”

“I have seen many strategies come and go in my time. Dr. Borax taught me not to be married to procedures and methods, but to look for things that benefit students, and to work with individuals, not classes.”

After earning his bachelor’s degree in education from VCU SOE in 1976, Jenkins moved to Fredericksburg, Va. He pursued his master’s degree at the school by commuting back to Richmond. He earned his master’s degree in education from VCU SOE in 1979, with a concentration in curriculum and instruction.

Jenkins had always wanted to work in outdoor education, so after graduation, he began working at For Love of Children (FLOC) Wilderness School in Harpers Ferry, W.Va. There, he worked with at-risk boys who had been court-ordered to leave the inner-city environment of Washington, D.C., for a short time to live and learn in the Blue Ridge Mountains. For Jenkins, the job was 24 hours a day, five days a week, and it was challenging.

“I credit my time at VCU with giving me the strength and wisdom to be as successful as possible at that job,” he said.

Jenkins has now been a teacher for 43 years. “I still think about what I learned all those years ago at VCU. Being taught by words and example to be diligent and thoughtful about my profession has been invaluable,” he said.

He credits any recognition he’s received in his career to the fact that he was “taught to do what works in education, not to blindly follow what others may do, or not do.” During his teaching career, he’s been recognized for his accomplishments many times, including Teacher of the Year in both Jefferson County, W.Va., and Loudoun County, Va., as well as receiving the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching in 1994.

Jenkins’ mother and sister were also teachers, and both attended VCU SOE. Jenkins’ son is now a senior in high school, and VCU is his top choice of colleges to attend next fall.

Jenkins and his son have had mini season tickets to VCU basketball games for many years. Last season, they tried to schedule a campus visit at VCU during a trip to Richmond to see the Rams play. “There were no open spots for the tour that day,” Jenkins said. “A call to the VCU alumni office resulted in a staffer taking her own time to take my son on a tour, which is quite unusual. It’s also typical of the environment of VCU. The tour lasted over two hours and was superbly done.”

“It’s reassuring to know that such a large school can still be so personal,” he said.

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