Jim Greaves has been teaching students for 50 years and counting – and he has no plans to retire.
Fifty years in a career is a commitment that few people achieve. Greaves jokes that there aren’t that many teachers around that long because they just aren’t around any longer at all.
Greaves teaches at Valley Oak High School, which is the Oakdale Joint Unified School District’s independent study junior and senior high school in the Alternative Education program.
He taught in Turlock for his first year in education and started off at $4,300 a year, which left him with $217 a month in take home pay. Then he heard about a job opening at Oakdale High School that paid a whopping $5,400 annual salary.
“Oakdale was the most beautiful campus around,” Greaves recalled. “They had full-time landscapers, beautiful camellia bushes and roses… I thought to myself, ‘I gotta get this job.’”
He got that job at OHS – was required to wear a tie to work – and his past 49 years have been in the Oakdale education system. He taught at OHS until 1998 and has been at Valley Oak School ever since.
He graduated from Cal Poly and obtained a general secondary credential, which is good to teach any subject from kindergarten through junior college. Those types of credentials are no longer issued in California. Because of his unique credential, Greaves has taught just about every subject except for foreign language and has filled in a lot of gaps. He taught Special Day classes for the first three years at OHS, where he taught all the basic core subjects, and began coaching in his second year at OHS. Over the years, he’s also taught classes such as world history, math, vocational courses, science, driver’s education, and even leather craft.
OJUSD Trustee Mike House commented at the April school board meeting, where Greaves was recognized for his years of service, that he had “Coach Greaves” for biology and basketball while at OHS.
“I’m better because of Jim Greaves,” House said.
County Superintendent of Schools Tom Changnon also honored Greaves at the meeting for his years of service and dedicated teaching and said that he was proud of him. OJUSD Alternative Education Principal Dennis Hitch also presented Greaves with a large, framed resolution from the California Legislature for his special achievement.
Greaves actually retired from OHS in June 1998. It didn’t last long. He took two months off, went fishing every day with his brother-in-law and got burned out. He told his wife of 52 years, Jean, that he was afraid he was addicted to teaching and returned to the classroom in September 1998. So technically, he “retired” for that summer and resumed teaching at the Alternative Education high school.
“They’ll probably carry me out of this room,” he said as he sat at his desk at Valley Oak. “I love the staff we have… We’re all here to help one another.”
Greaves figures he’s taught about 13,000 students over the course of his career – so far.
At Valley Oak, he said he’s focused on the students individually, it’s more one-on-one and that the most important thing is to get the students to graduate.
“I think I make a difference,” he said. “I think that’s the key to teaching. If you feel that you’re not making a difference, I think it’s time for you to leave.”
Until 1991, Greaves coached football, baseball, and boys and girls basketball at OHS. He said he never had a football championship, but there were lots in basketball and baseball. He led his first girls basketball team in 1984-85 to a VOL championship. He recalled that the team went on to win the quarter finals, win the semi-finals, and were beaten by a Sacramento area team that had two future Olympians on it at the finals in Oakland. Two of those OHS girls got four-year basketball scholarships and one was an all-state player.
“Those were good years…” he said. “I’ve been blessed. Not that I’m a great teacher, but I’ve had a lot of great success at OHS.”
When he retired from coaching, after he finished his classes for the day at OHS, he would go to the alternative education school site across the street and teach classes there.
Over the many years he’s been in the classroom, he’s seen a lot of change.
“I used to know everybody in Oakdale, it’s different now… I’ve seen a tremendous amount of change in the community, in the schools and what’s taught, and the equipment available,” Greaves said.
He said that the curriculum nowadays is far more demanding than when he started teaching in 1962. He reported that there was also a time when there was a lot of disparity in the schools. His first OHS classroom was wedged between the custodian’s shed and the print shop, with only one door to the building. Greaves said the pay at the alternative education school was $9 an hour until former school trustee “Bus” House, Mike House’s father, lobbied to get the alternative education teachers on the same salary schedule as the other teachers.
He said that Oakdale has mostly always had really good teachers and its coaches have been considered the best. He believes teachers have it pretty good in Oakdale and said he’s had good support over the years.
“Teaching school is like playing a game of cards,” he said. “If you’re dealt a good hand, it’s easier to teach. But if it’s a bad hand, you better deliver.”
School discipline is handled differently now, too, he noted that the paddle was the thing in the 1960s. Back when he started there was also less bureaucracy, he said, and no liability papers like today. He recalled taking his Special Day students, during a time when there was almost no mainstreaming, on a three- to four-day outdoor education field trip at the end of the school year. And once, his championship girls basketball team literally kidnapped him from class – with the principal’s permission and help from burly football players – blind-folded him, threw him in the back of a car, and took him to lunch at Round Table Pizza for his birthday.
“Those were good times,” he said with a chuckle.
As for what’s helped keep him motivated, he said just after college he made a commitment to his parents on the day his dad passed away.
“I told him, ‘you’ll be proud of me,’” Greaves said with some emotion. “I think today he could say that.”