Longtime Caledonia High School teacher/coach James Reed stands next to a saying that epitomized the direct approach he took with his students. Reed took pride in being able to relate to students in and out of the classroom in his 24 years at the school. Photo by: Adam Minichino/Dispatch Staff Buy this photo.
June 16, 2018 11:07:15 PM
CALEDONIA -- James Reed doesn't mind that he was called "old school."
The longtime Caledonia High School teacher/coach also doesn't take offense to being told he is "blunt" in how he talks.
"I will be the first to admit I'm old school," Reed said. "But kids even today are looking for discipline and expectations, and I've tried to give them both. What few problems I have had has been with parents who have had a problem with discipline."
Nowhere was Reed's approach more evident than on a simple message he posted below the clock on the front wall of his classroom: "You can take this class one of two ways -- seriously or over."
When you have worked with kids for as long as Reed, you tend to know they are going to look at the clock, so where else would you put a disclaimer that everyone better be prepared to work because nothing was going to be given?
Messages like that one and "average is just as close to the bottom as it is to the top" or "early is on time and on time is late" will echo in the hallways at Caledonia High after Reed retired last month after 40 years in education.
"People say, 'How in the world have you stayed in education for 40 years?' " Reed said. "But it is like I say, if you make clear expectations, (you will have success). I have tried to tried to teach more than just History. I got into coaching, but I had a relative who said, 'If you do your job, you'll always have one.' "
The 2017-2018 school year was Reed's 24th at Caledonia High. The 62-year-old from Hamilton started his work in education in the spring semester in 1979 at Hamilton High. He then took a job at Kennedy High in Alabama, which is where he taught for three years. He moved to Columbus (Caldwell High) and coached high school football, ninth-grade girls basketball, and baseball. The day he resigned from his position there, coach Jimmie Moore at Hamilton High called and asked if he was interested in a job at the school. He was.
Reed opted to stay at Hamilton High when Moore left the school to take a job at New Hope High. He remained there for 11 years before he took a job at Caledonia High. He remembers saying at the time he only wanted to teach History and was willing to be offensive line coach for the football team. Reed said the defensive coordinator left before the start of the season, so he wound up taking that position. By the spring, the head coach had left the school and Reed said he "inherited" the program.
In addition to coaching football at Caledonia High, Reed served as track and field and cross country coach. His mentality as a coach was the same as a teacher: Set expectations and hold students accountable.
"You don't have to guess where I stand," Reed said.
Reed said his students called him "blunt" many times through the years. He said he was to the point because he didn't want to have to remember what story he told his students. Reed feels that open relationship developed trust and respect, which helped him connect in the classroom.
"I was old when I started, and I probably have a better rapport with the kids after 40 years than when I started because I worked so hard when I started to be in charge," Reed said. "I have found if you have to continuously tell people you're in charge, you're probably not in charge. Leading by example is much easier than leading by telling."
More than 120 people attended a retirement party for Reed last month, including Jessica Comer, a former standout cross country runner at Caledonia High. Comer now is a cross country coach at Warren Central High. She shared numerous text messages from her student-athletes with Reed that reflected how she was using the lessons she learned from Reed to carry on his message.
One of those messages was "run through" the finish line, not to it. Comer learned that lesson as an eighth-grader when she slowed up just before the finish of the 3,200 meters at the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 4A State meet. Instead of finishing first, Comer took third.
"You don't make a lot of money teaching, but I like to call it psychic income," Reed said. "I have gotten a whole lot of psychic income in the last two or three weeks with people telling me you had an influence on me and you do this. It is great to hear."
Reed feels he still has a few years of teaching left in him, but he said his family is his priority, even though he admitted he might need a part-time job for gas money so he can visit his daughter, Katie Ji, who lives in Florida. Ji is a social studies teacher, while his other daughter, Kassidy Briggs, teaches Alegbra at Caledonia High.
Reed also will take advantage of his retirement to spend more time with his wife, Kathy, who also went to Hamilton High. After celebrating their 43rd year of marriage in May, Reed said he wouldn't have a degree in anything because Kathy typed everything he did in school.
It's a good thing Reed found someone who could type because the lessons he left behind have impacted plenty of his students. In fact, Reed said two dozen of his former students now work in education. Some of them might even use some of Reed's sayings, like "an idle pencil is a discipline problem." Reed tried to convey that sentiment during a job interview with Don Harding, who at the time was the principal of Caledonia High.
Harding hired Reed in part because he gave him the impression he would work hard. Twenty-four years later, that interview paved the way for a lot of memories and a lot of History lessons learned.
"It was a blessing for me to come to Caledonia to be able to stay here and raise my girls in a school district where they had an opportunity to get a good education," Reed said. "If you're honest and set your expectations and you stick to what you said you're going to do, everybody knows where they stand. I have been able to do that along the way.
"A lot of times I have not had real good records, but I think I have influenced people to the point that in the next step in real life it paid off. That is what really counts."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.