Jerry Kalapus, Reynolds High School, is Oregon's 2012 Substitute Teacher of the Year
by: Jim Clark

Word of the Day: sesquipedalian.

Webster defines 'sesquipedalian' as someone characterized by the use of long words.

It's a fitting description - and calling card - for Oregon's 2012 Substitute Teacher of the Year, who has been dispensing big words and knowledge for more than 50 years.

'I interject an esoteric and arcane word because kids are interested in words,' Jerry Kalapus said. 'Forty years ago, I used to have a Word of the Day. It's sort of followed me all these years. The kids always ask at the beginning of the class, and I always have a word for them.'

Kalapus, the most highly sought substitute teacher at Reynolds High School, received the honor at a statewide convention for substitute teachers in October 2011. The Reynolds School District recognized him at a board meeting earlier this year, and he will be introduced on the floor of both the Oregon Senate and House of Representatives in Salem on Oregon Substitute Teacher Appreciation Day in May.

The award is given annually by the Oregon Substitute Teachers Association as recognition to exceptional educators who provide classroom continuity during staff emergencies. For Kalapus, 74, the nod was surprising, since teaching is really just what he does and who he is.

Kalapus was born and spent the early part of his childhood in Fresno, Calif. At age 12, his family moved to Medford, where he became well known as a basketball and tennis star at Medford High School. He played center for the varsity basketball team in 1955, when they took second place in the state championship tournament. Two months later, Kalapus was crowned singles state champ for tennis.

After graduating from high school in June 1955, Kalapus attended Pacific University on athletic scholarships for basketball and tennis. He declared no field of study, he said, since academics at the time were secondary reasons for attending college.

'What I really went to college for was to play basketball and tennis,' Kalapus said. 'But I liked working with kids, so education seemed like a natural for me.'

His first job after receiving his degree in 1959 was as head basketball coach for Canyonville High School in Southern Oregon. In 1961, he moved to Portland and married former Oregon Journal columnist Suzanne Richards. The couple laid down roots in East County to raise daughter, Kimberly.

Kalapus spent 33 years teaching English and English literature at Reynolds High School. He retired for all of six months, in June1994, but returned as a substitute in January 1995.

'I discovered teaching was an integral part of my life,' he said. 'I missed it. I've always been active and being around kids helps me keep a young perspective.'

Kalapus is known for his innovative teaching methods, slipping in his Word of the Day or finding obscure facts pertaining to the lesson plan. He has adapted to the times and challenges in schools today, but isn't phased by classrooms that are larger and more diverse than earlier in his career.

'You have to consider the class as individuals, not as a herd,' he said. 'I think one of my strong points is that I try to integrate myself into the class instead of standing in front of the class. But how kids are learning has changed. They have a lot of things coming at them now - cell phones, video games - those change how they learn, think, reason. They're getting away from the books. We have to educate a lot of different people in a lot of different ways now. It's hard.'

Kalapus is a tall drink of water, standing 6 feet 5 inches tall, with gentle eyes and a laid-back manner. He is revered for his stories, which are always lengthy and questionable in truth, but never fail to carry a life lesson. Kalapus is also difficult to miss walking through the halls at Reynolds High School.

His work attire is a visual assault of plaids, stripes and loud colors, putting him nearly in the category of the Nutty Professor.

Yet despite his clothing choices, the skills and knowledge Kalapus brings to the classroom have earned high marks in respect within the district, from his peers to his students.

'He is a real treasure for our district, and we're lucky to have him,' said Tom Beaman, social studies teacher at Reynolds High School, who enthusiastically nominated Kalapus for the recognition last fall. 'He is a consummate professional. I think the key part of Jerry is that he genuinely cares about the kids and wants to help them learn. He really wants to empower the students and to expand their horizons.'

Leaving a class in the hands of a substitute is nerve-racking for teachers, Beaman said, because students often view the break from their normal instructor as an excuse for goofing off. But when one is fortunate enough to win the arm wrestling match for Kalapus' services, Beaman said it's a comfort to know instruction will be business as usual.

'We get back a full letter on what transpired while we were absent,' Beaman said. 'Most subs leave a note, but Jerry leaves an eloquent missive. As a teacher, I know Jerry is going to follow the lesson plan to the nth degree and the students will continue to learn.'

Students at Reynolds High School refer to Kalapus as 'inspirational,' 'kind-hearted' and 'my favorite substitute teacher.' They may find his clothing and Word of the Day quirky, but it's Kalapus' humanity that speaks most to them.

'He will actually remember a name and face of someone who has brought a smile to his face,' said Jennifer Crain, a junior at Reynolds. 'He is the only substitute that I have had who will always greet me with, 'Good morning, Jen. I hope you are having a superb day. You deserve it!' '

Kalapus is humbled and complimented by being singled out as the best of the best among substitute teachers statewide. However, there is no 'I' in 'team,' he said, when it comes to teaching.

'I was really astounded (by the award) to say the least,' Kalapus said. 'First thought through my mind was John Donne's poem, 'No Man is an Island.' I am not an island here. Everybody I work with - the teachers, my family, students, clear down to the janitors - I can't pay enough tribute to all the people in the educational community for this honor.'

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