By STEVEN NALLEY
Jerry Richardson has taught four different subjects over the course of his 24 years at the Millsaps Career and Technology Center.
Richardson said he has taught information technology for about seven and a half years, but he began with seven years teaching industrial arts, often called shop class, before spending 10 years in a class Millsaps no longer offers called technology discovery, where ninth graders explored 13 different areas of technology.
Now, Richardson has decided it’s time for another change: He will retire at the end of the school year, and Millsaps will honor him together with fellow retiring teacher John Moore at a reception May 10 from 4-6 p.m.
Millsaps Director James Stidham said the celebration is open to the public and the district will later recognize all its retirees, but this is the first time Millsaps has hosted a retirement reception for any employees. Richardson has switched from subject to subject as needed with no complaints, Stidham said, and his flexibility is an asset Millsaps will dearly miss.
“Mr. Richardson has changed subject matter teaching for me on three different occasions and has been very gracious and very capable to move from program to program,” Stidham said. “Mr. Richardson really likes the kids, and he’s a good role model for them as well. Mr. Moore is too.”
Moore said he agrees Richardson is a role model for students, and he does not mind sharing the spotlight with him. He said it feels as if it was only a few years ago he saw Richardson join Millsaps, but that could be because his own career at Millsaps dates back to the building’s creation 40 years ago.
“I think Mr. Richardson is extremely dedicated,” Moore said. “He’s just a good person. We work kind of closely together. He is always supportive and helpful and does a good job with the students, preparing them for the world of work. I’m extremely supportive of him like he’s been supportive of me.”
When he retires, Richardson said plans he will consider include taking two months off, visiting his sisters in Ohio and Colorado, and switching to more casual work in a co-op or a home improvement store. He enjoys teaching, he said, but he wants to get away from lesson plans, lunch duty and bells ringing all day long.
“As a couple other older teachers I know told me, ‘When it’s your time to go, you’ll know it,’” Richardson said. “I love my students ... but about a year or so ago, I began to get that sense that it was time to move on to something else. A former colleague of mine said, ‘When you start teaching grandchildren of people you’ve taught, it’s time to go home. I don’t want to get to that point ... (but) I’ve had as students children of people I’ve taught. I can’t go anywhere in town without running into a former student.”
Richardson said he enjoys each of the subjects he has taught because he is a hands-on, mechanically inclined person who enjoys problem solving. His only college degree, he said, is a Mississippi State University degree in industrial arts education. The rest, he said, has come by adaptation.
“To be totally honest, I have no formal background or training working with computers,” Richardson said. “Everything I’ve learned has been survival, keeping a lab of computers going when there was no one else to go to. I guess I like a challenge. I like learning new things. I found that the best way to learn something over the years is by teaching it.”
Richardson said one of his best students is Christine Mazzola, sports editor for Starkville High School’s student newspaper. Mazzola said Richardson’s teaching has been invaluable for her work in journalism.
“Before (Richardson’s class,) I had only worked in Windows XP (and) wasn’t very familiar with Vista or (Windows) 7 or Mac software,” Mazzola said. “He’s taught me a lot. Now I use a wide range of software. It’s helpful whenever we have to jump from computer to computer. Like today, (in the newsroom,) we only have three Macs, so everyone’s trying to get somewhere they can type a story.”
Mazzola said she was also surprised to discover how much fun Richardson’s class was and just how much he was able to teach in just nine weeks of classes every other day. The class also creates interesting conversation pieces, she said.
“Honestly, I’m going to miss sitting in there every day and being able to just talk with the class about what’s coming out in technology and just being up on news,” Mazzola said. “We are always talking about computer problems someone else has had (and) figuring out how to solve problems. It just teaches you to communicate with others and work as a team to solve problems.”
Richardson said helping students build their technical skills has always been satisfying.
“The payoff is when you see that light come on in a student’s eyes that tells you, ‘(I’ve) got it. I understand now,’” Richardson said. “I’ve always loved that feeling.”