Questioning the Locals: Dr. Roderick Jones
getting to know Eau Claire’s newest City Council member
In less than two years, Dr. Roderick Jones has gone from a newcomer to Eau Claire to a member of the City Council, having been appointed June 21 to fill a vacancy. Jones, an assistant professor at UW-Eau Claire in the special education and inclusive practices program, came to the Valley after working as an educator for nearly 20 years in Florida. “For me, teaching was not simply about a 9-5 job,” he says. “It is one of the highest and noblest professions in the world. Teachers have the unique capacity and responsibility of shaping tomorrow’s citizenry.”
What’s your name?
Dr. Roderick Jones
Neighborhood you live in, city:
Princeton Valley, Eau Claire.
How long have you lived in the Chippewa Valley:
As of Aug. 1, it will be two years.
How did you become an educator?
Through volunteering. When my oldest child (my son) started prekindergarten in 1997, his teacher, Ms. Larmon, often asked if I would volunteer in her classroom. For months I tacitly committed but never followed through. However, when I finally made it a point to volunteer, I noticed how fun it was working with the little ones. They were very eager to learn and try new things; they were very impressionable. They clung to every word teachers and other adults said. Moreover, whenever I arrived at their classroom to volunteer for the day, I was treated like a celebrity. They were so excited to see “Mr. Jones. He is fun and cool.” The children’s reactions to my presence were priceless. Their zest for life and learning ignited a passion within me to teach. Consequently, I went back to college to pursue a career in teaching and the rest is history.
Can you briefly describe a rewarding experience you had as an educator?
There are so many, but I will share one that occurred during my first year of teaching. I worked in a classroom with students (grades 3-5) with different types of speech/language, learning, and socio-emotional disabilities. James was a fourth-grade student who hated math. At the beginning of the year, he would put his head down on the desk, cover his head with his arms, and cry whenever it was time for math instruction. Math was incredibly difficult for him. He would not even try to do it.
Slowly, I built up his confidence. I would call on him when head was down and waited for him to peek up at me through crevices he would make with his arms and hands. I initially praised him when he just merely looked at me during math instruction. Then, he began sitting up without covering his head. I lavished him with more praise.
Suddenly, he began raising his hand to answer questions, and although his responses were oftentimes wrong, I heaped more praise upon him for his efforts. I told him how proud I was of him and that he was becoming quite the math genius. I could see his confidence building the entire time. Before the school year ended, I could not get James to keep his hand down during math instruction to save any of our lives. He wanted to answer every single question, whether he knew the answer or not. He completely transformed his belief in himself when it came to math. He was so prideful to participate, without fear of being ridiculed or shamed.
Ultimately, James’ mother met me with at the end of the year and sobbed while thanking me for helping her son believe in his math abilities. She was effusively thankful that I helped their family remove this barrier in their life. James and his mother also made me a thank you card that included their pictures. This first-year experience taught me the invaluable power and influence educators have in students’ and their families’ lives.
Whenever I arrived at their classroom to volunteer for the day, I was treated like a celebrity. ... The children’s reactions to my presence were priceless. Their zest for life and learning ignited a passion within me to teach.
dr. roderick jones
ON HIS FIRST EXPERIENCE IN A CLASSROOM
What drew you to UW-Eau Claire?
Faith and providential opportunity. When my wife and I finished our PhDs. in 2018, we re-entered the job market looking for positions in higher education across the country. My wife’s area of expertise is in early childhood special education, and there were two universities advertising for tenure-track positions in that field; UWEC was one of them. When UWEC offered her the job, she shared that I was also interviewing for a tenure-track position. In fact, I preparing to interview in Chicago when UWEC also expressed interest me.
Ultimately, the job offers from UWEC fell into place so perfectly for my wife and me that we truly believe we were meant to be in Eau Claire. So, we took a leap of faith, moved our little family to Eau Claire, and immediately got to work networking and building relationships with colleagues and people throughout the community. The pandemic made things a bit harder, but we remained determined to establish ourselves in our new community and home, making new friends along the way.
You moved from Florida a few years ago. What do you say to people from Wisconsin when they complain about the summer heat here?
I will take the heat without the humidity any day of the week. For sure, it does get remarkably hot here in Wisconsin. However, when you step outside during the summer in Florida, you are instantly drenched in sweat. You become a walking swimming pool. Here we can usually find reprieve in the shade. It is refreshing!
What place in town considers you a “regular”?
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, I have not been able to become a “regular” at any of the local establishments. However, my wife and I were frequenting The Informalist every Friday afternoon for months until they shuttered in-person dining due to the pandemic. We plan to restart our patronage soon since they recently reopened in-person dining, along with other well-known establishments.
What’s the most positive local development since you moved here?
I would have to say the upcoming Children’s Museum of Eau Claire. Children are our future. The teachings we instill in them, especially if just and good, will be returned in good favor to future generations. It is my hope the new children’s museum mesmerizes children and adults alike and inspires our humanity in good, positive, and affirming ways. Our daughter loved going to the children’s museum on a few occasions before COVID. We are excited to take her back soon.
What frustrates you about the Chippewa Valley?
I have had to learn to appreciate slower-paced traffic and service at stores, drive-throughs, and other local restaurants and establishments in the Valley. Throughout the Tampa Bay area in Florida, I was used to things moving at a faster pace. However, I am finding that I am adjusting incrementally to the new pace. On the one hand, it is refreshing to not be so rushed. On the other hand, I need to make sure to allow for more time when we are out.
What is one of the best cultural experiences you’ve ever had in the Valley?
The Christmas lights at Irvine Park – an absolute amazing experience, especially for children. The experience is ethereal. I had never witnessed such a bedazzling display of Christmas lights in all my life. My daughter, wife, and I are always impressed by the experience. This was also one of the few activities we were able to do safely this last year.
Do you have a favorite piece of local trivia. If so, what is it?
I am still learning about the depth of our community; however, my daughter goes to Exceptional Athletics (EXA) at Banbury Place, and I am intrigued by the history associated with the building. While walking the hallways to get to EXA, I’ve seen biographic portraits of individuals who worked there many years ago, as well as other historical facts about the economic growth of Eau Claire. I was also surprised to learn Eau Claire was once heralded as “Sawdust City” due to the astounding number of sawmills that once operated here due significantly to the rivers’ confluence. I read about this on one of the city’s historical plaques.
Death bed, one meal from a local restaurant, what would it be?
Any and every pasta dish at Mona Lisa’s. I love pasta, and Mona Lisa’s has the best in town. Hands down. I can literally “rest in peace” after eating there.
What book, TV show, or movie would you recommend to the members of the City Council?
Eaarth by Bill MicKibben. I read this book in a graduate course I took called the Sociology of Consumer Culture. In this book McKibben describes how we have reshaped our planet’s (thus the spelling “Eaarth”) health. This book really changed the way I view the importance of environmental justice. To say the least, from deforestation, ozone depletion, global warming, and water contamination, especially in societies and towns populated by minoritized citizens, we are learning more each day how our habits as a species are hurting our planet and making it less habitable for future generations.
If you could rename Eau Claire with a different French name, what would it be?
This is an interesting question. Maybe Bordeux – after one of my favorite theorists, philosophers, and sociologists Pierre Bourdieu (“bord-yoo”). A lot of his work dealt with how power functioned in societies and how it worked to reify social order. He also had a lot to say about the role of education in societies. I believe residents of Eau Claire work hard to rethink how to make our beloved community a more just and equitable place to live.