J B Sutton teacher expands lessons beyond words of
The Arizona Republic
Apr. 21, 2006
When Jesse Valdez stepped onto Isaac Elementary District's J B Sutton School
campus as a new teacher in 1993, he experienced fear and reverse culture shock.
The New Mexico native had not worked with urban students before to his first
teaching stint in Arizona. Valdez moved from Portales, N.M., a tiny community
near Eastern New Mexico University where he completed his bachelor's degree in
education. He later earned a master's degree in bilingual education from
Northern Arizona University. Valdez had heard horror stories about teaching in
urban schools. Then he met a group of shy students with brown faces just like
"When the students started talking to me in both languages, I really felt at
home," Valdez said. "I had never worked with a large number of Hispanics
students. It took me a week to get used to it."
The Isaac community, especially its children, grew on the third-grade teacher.
The Avondale resident has taught reading, writing and math to hundreds of
Students, especially English learners, like his teaching style. He blends
lessons using their environment with textbooks to help them comprehend their
In reading, for example, if students can't pronounce English words like R for
roast beef or robot, the instructor helps. "R like Ramos" he tells his students
who battle their tongues to enunciate correctly and are grateful when given a
familiar name or word.
Sometimes geometry can be confusing especially if a teacher strictly relies on a
textbook. When he delivers a math lesson about perpendicular lines, he uses
nearby cross streets like 31st Avenue and Roosevelt Street as examples.
Students get these lessons.
Valdez received an added boost to lessons when Sutton installed Arizona Rodel
Foundation's Math Achievement Club to help English language learner students in
2003. Third-grade student test scores in math increased by 48 percent in two
years, many of the students were Valdez's students.
A teaching career was not in his plans when Valdez attended college. He dreamed
of a career in architectural engineering building bridges, highways and
Then Valdez met a group of students when he coached in Portales. Friends noticed
how quickly he connected with children.
That's how Valdez embarked on an education career.
Colleagues at Sutton enjoy his humor and the care and respect his teaching
"They (parents and kids) respond well to Mr. Valdez," said Chad Geston, Sutton's
assistant principal. "I know he is one of teachers whose kids are passing the
Maggie Post, a third-grade Sutton instructor, met Valdez when he became a mentor
for the third-grade teachers.
"He orchestrates the team and he is our cheerleader." Post said.