J B Sutton teacher expands lessons beyond words of textbooks
The Arizona Republic
Apr. 21, 2006

Betty Reid

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 his.

"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 children.

Students, especially English learners, like his teaching style. He blends lessons using their environment with textbooks to help them comprehend their studies.

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 monuments.

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 commitment.

"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 standardized test."

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.