My uncle Jim Sheldon is retiring this month after teaching over 1,000 fifth graders in Napa for the past 39 years

Jim Sheldon

Pretty amazing life and career for my uncle Jim Sheldon who is retiring this year after teaching so many fifth graders.

Here’s the article about it from the Napa Valley Register:

Four decades in fifth grade

By NATALIE HOFFMAN Register Staff Writer | Posted: Tuesday, June 8, 2010 12:00 am

Jim Sheldon knows room 10 on the El Centro Elementary School campus like the back of his hand.

The teacher spent almost four decades teaching in the same classroom, working mostly with fifth-graders, an age group Sheldon has built his career around.

“They’re aware of other people and I like that,” he said. “They’re not particularly self-centered (and) they’re developing a sense of humor … a sense of humor is very important and I really enjoy laughing with my class.”

After 39 years and more than 1,000 former students, Sheldon has had countless chances to do just that. “The best thing about teaching is seeing former students,” he said. “I just like to catch up with their lives.”

Students and colleagues say he’s a master of knowing when to trade getting down to business for cutting loose. He’s definitely in charge in the classroom, where he misses very little of what his 33 students are up to.

The kids love Sheldon — the consensus is that he’s fun but strict, a winning combination.

“He can be strict when it comes to work … but he kind of acts like a kid sometimes,” fifth-grader Jessica Vargas said.

Anastasia Hildebrandt, another of Sheldon’s students, agreed. “It’s a lot of fun being in his class, but it’s scary when he gets mad,” she said.

Sheldon, who won’t reveal his age and stands at least 6 feet 2, said being a tall male teacher doesn’t hurt when it comes to keeping his kids’ attention.

“I have a presence; I have a look,” he said. “I’m firm but fair, and when the kids buy into it, it’s a joy … I set the rules and expectations and I hold the kids to it.”

In the classroom, Sheldon doesn’t stay still much. One moment he’s at his desk — a landscape of flash cards, homework set in neat piles and a towering coffee mug — with students lined up, seeking help. Five minutes later, he’s ambling around the students’ desks, making sure they’re on task.

You can learn more about Sheldon from his classroom decor. A tiny orange paperweight shaped like a construction cone sitting atop a batch of paper is a good example.

The side of the cone reads: “There is no failure except in no longer trying.”

He is direct and patient while helping a fifth-grade boy with his math class work. Minutes later he’s helping another student.

El Centro Principal Molly McClurg said individualized attention is the way Sheldon does business in the classroom.

“His interactions with the kids are just like his interactions with other staff members and the community,” she said. “He looks at people for who they are … and treats them as human beings, and they give that respect back to him, naturally.”

Fifth-grader Celine Parra said she and her classmates will walk away from Sheldon’s classroom with valuable memories. One of her favorites was last Halloween when Sheldon came to class in full wrestling regalia, complete with faux-muscled arms made of blown-up balloons.

“He’s leaving and we’re going to miss him,” she said. “It’s so fun having him around.”

Alice Jackson, a former Phillips Charter School principal who taught fifth grade at El Centro from about 1973 to 1983, said Sheldon is “very dedicated and very tuned-in to individual students.”

Jackson credited Sheldon with starting an after-school soccer program in the 1970s before the sport took off in Napa. Sheldon is not afraid to go outside of his comfort zone, she said. In 1998, he left Napa to teach in Bristol, England, as part of a teacher exchange program.

A top tennis player in a local recreational program in the 1970s, Sheldon encouraged students to get involved in sports, the arts and earth-friendly causes, she said.

Nancy Caffo, an El Centro fourth-grade teacher who has known Sheldon professionally for 21 years, said students appreciate his gift for getting silly. One year, a student with a reputation for being tough said he was too embarrassed to wear a flannel nightgown for a school play. Sheldon took charge, donning the frock in class to show it was no big deal, she said.

Along with his wife, Nancy, Sheldon is known to weed the campus, fix light fixtures and retrieve soccer balls accidentally kicked onto the roof, Caffo said.

“It’s going to be interesting because I don’t think people realize how much he does,” she said. “It’s going to be tough.”

They’ve got some good comments on the article as well as a nice video featuring Jim talking about his teaching style:

3 responses to “My uncle Jim Sheldon is retiring this month after teaching over 1,000 fifth graders in Napa for the past 39 years”

  1. Thanks for sharing this. I have tremendous respect for teachers, especially of this caliber! Our children are the future – literally. We all need to focus on bring them into their world as prepared as they can be (It'll be more challenging than our world).

  2. Hi! I just wanted to leave a comment here and say that I was a student of Mr. Sheldon’s in 2009 and I was so pleased to find this beautiful ode to such a wonderful teacher who has influenced the lives of so many.

    Thank you for sharing!

  3. I was a student of Mr Sheldon back in 1995. I went a long time without seeing him. Around 2008, I saw him and his wife on a BART train. It felt like it had been so long, but there we were, sitting across from eachother. I told my girlfriend (now wife) that I was pretty sure that was my 5th grade teacher. “Ben Dobbs?” he still remembered me!

    Everyone looks a bit different from when they’re in 5th grade and 10 years later, but somehow he remembered me. It’s such a nice feeling to not just be a completely forgotten student of years past.

    Anyways, I cherish my year in 5th grade with Mr Sheldon. I hope he feels the appreciation that he is so well deserved. 🙂

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