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Former students now teach alongside role models

Andy Jordan likes to joke that he’s spent 21 of his 26 years at Sycamore School District 427.

He attended school in the district and then returned to teach high school social studies after graduating from Northern Illinois University. When he started teaching, he saw lots of familiar faces, including Brian Koehne, who taught Jordan in both middle school and high school.

Koehne has to remind Jordan that he’s old enough to call him by his first name now.

“It’s kind of interesting not calling teachers ‘mister’ or ‘missus’ because that’s how I knew them,” Jordan said. 

It’s not an uncommon phenomenon throughout DeKalb County, but experienced teachers said watching their students grow into teachers who work alongside them can be a rare pleasure.

“It’s kind of fun to see those kids come back and doing the profession that I love to do,” Koehne said.

For Jill Nicholson, returning to teach at Genoa-Kingston High School was her way of giving back to her community.

Nicholson said several longtime Genoa-Kingston teachers inspired her to become a special education teacher before she graduated high school in 1980. Nicholson and her daughter had the same English teacher, Carol Smith, who knew how to handle their attitudes, she said.

Nicholson figured she was lucky to get a job with Genoa-Kingston high school when she started there eight years ago.

“I feel very strongly that it is important to give back to your community,” Nicholson said. 

Chris Judkins, a first-year math teacher at DeKalb High School, said he attended school there between 2000 and 2004. One teacher who inspired him to lead a classroom of his own was his mom, who teaches at Clinton Rosette Middle School. Another was math teacher was T.J. Fontana, whose teaching style and enthusiasm Judkins appreciated.

Now that he’s a teacher at the same school as Fontana, he gets to see how intelligent he is outside of the classroom. 

“I guess as a student, teachers [seem] kind of like robots, and now I get to see that other side, which I think is cool,” Judkins said. 

Meanwhile, numerous products of Sycamore School District 428 are teaching there, including three in the English department, said Richard Majerus, the high school’s English Department chairman.

One of them is 30-year-old Ben Doty, a 2001 Sycamore High grad.

After attending Winona State University in Minnesota, Doty landed a job at Sycamore Middle School in 2006. Doty remembers Majerus’ positive influence on students and strong storytelling abilities, and tries to emulate some of them.

“It kind of stands out and says a lot about the community and school district that students want to come back and live here and collaborate with their old teachers,” he said. 

Majerus said former students who return as new teachers bring with them an established sense of history with the district. They know the atmosphere and curriculum already, he said. 

“They bring that history along with new ideas and new objectives and goals,” Majerus said.

Majerus finds it gratifying as well. He had no trouble adjusting to working alongside Doty when he became a teacher, because he admired him as a student.

“It’s not something teachers see all that often,” he said. 

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