Former Cromwell resident James Gere spent his career in education. During that time not only did he educate students, he learned from them as well.
His career spanned 39 years. He has been a teacher, assistant principal, principal, and superintendent. All of which he did at the Cromwell School District.
“I’ve learned a lot over the years, but I learned the most working with students,” he said.
“Kids teach you a lot more about human nature than adults do. They are more revealing and open. You also can have great dialogues with them,” he added.
James started his career right out of college as a classroom teacher. At the time special education was not what it is today. Originally hired as a substitute teacher he was assigned to what was then known as the “time out classroom.” Students in this class varied academically and ranged in ages from 10 to 19, including a group of Swedish kids who had just moved into the area. He taught all subjects and had the same students all day long.
After successfully completing that assignment, the superintendent of schools asked him to stay on and he was moved to the high school where he taught 11th and 12th graders. There he taught what he had been trained in, political science and social studies.
“I taught American History, sociology, and psychology in 11th grade. The senior class concentrated on political science and contemporary issues, which was very interesting because at the time the Vietnam War was taking place,” he said.
“I found too, kids were different in the early 60’s than they were in the late 60’s. The war, the assassination of President Kennedy and other social changes had affected them, as did alcohol and drugs which became more prevalent in the late 60’s and 70’s.”
James went on to say one of the major differences between the students of the early 60’s and those in school in the late 60’s a 70’s was their “sense of idealism had diminished. The excitement was lost,” he said.
After teaching high school for 13 years, the district decided to create the position of assistant principal and asked if he would be interested. He said yes and moved from instruction to administration, a position he held for three years, until being appointed high school principal. He would remain in that capacity for 17 years.
“I liked teaching best, but also enjoyed administration. I’m glad I did it because I was able the help create fantastic things and introduce programs I would not have been able to in the classroom,” James said.
“But overall I enjoyed being in the classroom most. Being around the kids was great,” he added.
That love of being around the students stayed with him during his time as superintendent of schools. He told a story of how he discovered he was losing sight of the kids, so frequently would visit the elementary school to re-connect. One day after a winter storm had forced the closing of the school, he decided to go for a visit.
“I walked into the cafeteria and a teacher introduced me to the kids. I’ll never forget what one kid said. He said, 'hey he’s the nice man who let us play in the snow.' It made my day,” James recalled.
As superintendent James had a number of issues to address, including convincing the public a new high school needed to be built, updates had to be made in other buildings, new programs had to be instituted, how education and instruction were changing, and that the district was evolving from a small rural one to a more suburban one.
“I went from educating students to educating parents,” he said.
James would spend the next 16 years as superintendent until retiring in 2000. He did not leave education behind, however, and continues to stay abreast of what is going on. He has also seen how much education has changed since he started; some of it for the better, some not.
“Kids today are more prepared for the work world, and the graduation rate is higher, that’s very encouraging. But the social changes that have taken place are challenging. If you really want to understand how much they’ve changed all you have to do is go through yearbooks,” he said.
Some of the changes he cited include the extensive use of social media, single parent homes, parents having to work multiple jobs just to stay financially afloat, and mandates put upon teachers and administrators.
“It’s hard for teachers these days. A lot of young, well prepared, trained teachers are leaving the profession three to five years in because of these mandates which take up so much of their time. It’s not just about teaching anymore,” he said.
“And kids are mirrors of our society. Social media has taken over, parents work so much that the interaction between them and their kids isn’t happening like it used to. The effects of this are definitely being seen in the classroom. It's very challenging for everyone.”
James said not everything he learned about education he acquired through career experience and college education. He also took with him what he learned early on in life attending parochial school. Born left-handed, he like many of his generation were forced to use their right hand rather than what came naturally to him. And the nuns did not always do things in the kindest of ways to accomplish that. He too recalled difficult times for other students, including one boy who stuttered and oft times was ridiculed and embarrassed by teachers for it.
“Going to parochial school was actually a gift. The education was fantastic, with maybe the exception of science and math, which I think back then the nuns were not very comfortable teaching,” he said.
“But it taught me how to be a good teacher. It also taught me what not to do as a teacher.”
James said he loved Cromwell when he first came here and although retired he continued to make Cromwell all it could be. He volunteered his time in a variety of capacities. Most recently he was interim director of the senior center, a position he actually held twice. He has also served on the Cromwell alcohol and drug commission, the senior commission and the library commission.
He has been a member of the Cromwell Republican Committee, which he chaired for three years, and served one term on the town zoning board.
James and his wife reluctantly left Cromwell a few years ago and relocated to an over 55 community in Rocky Hill, but is happy he is close enough to stay involved.