Walking through his classroom, Harborview Elementary School teacher Robert “Rocky” Eddy had a hard time weaving in and out of the crowd of students.
There were two reasons Eddy’s classroom was packed with more than 60 students on May 23 before school let out for the summer. The students and staff were having the year-end Tlingit Culture, Language, and Literacy Program celebration, and they were wishing Eddy farewell. Eddy is retiring after 28 years of teaching in Juneau.
“It had been good,” Eddy, 51, said of his career. “It has been fast.”
Eddy started his career at Sayéik: Gastineau Community School in 1990 after graduating from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He spent 23 of his 28 years teaching second and third grades there. Eddy left Gastineau and spent one year teaching in Ketchikan with his now wife, Patty Elliot. Eddy returned to Juneau and spent his last four years at Harborview Elementary teaching in the TCLL program.
Eddy, a lifelong Alaskan, said when he started teaching in Juneau it was during a time when the district was making a push to hire more Alaska Native teachers. Eddy is half Tlingit and Nishgaa Indian (Nishgaa is Canadian Indian) on his mother, Florence’s side. On his father, Francis’s side, he is Caucasian.
“When I started in the 1990s, Juneau made a concerted effort to hire more Alaska Native teachers when a big group of teachers was leaving,” Eddy said. “I came in as a part of that big wave of new teachers, so there was a group of teachers that worked together for 20-plus years together.”
Eddy said he hopes because the district made that effort with the teachers, that it follows with keeping the Native language courses active.
“In the Tlingit Culture, Language, and Literacy Program we have a large focus on the Alaskan Native kids and families,” Eddy said. “I think when the grant (for the program) was started, it was focused on helping Native students be successful. I hope that continues. We have a really talented group of Alaska Natives working here now. I hope the district keeps supporting that, while also supporting academics. I hope they find a good balance between the two.”
Everyone from Eddy’s fellow teachers to his students agree that his demeanor, even under high-stress situations, was always one of his best qualities as an educator.
“Rocky was just a nice person and always had a joke ready,” said Dirk Miller, who worked with Eddy at Gastineau for 15 years. “He was one of those people who was the glue that keeps people together. I think his approach to finding humor in just about anything really stood out. He always found a way to connect with kids.”
Miller said his son, Sherrod Miller, 19, still refers to Eddy as his favorite teacher.
One of his students from this past year, Marigold Lindoff, said she liked having Eddy as a teacher because his teaching style kept students interested.
“I like Mr. Eddy because he always had something fun to do,” Lindoff, 7, said. “He would take us outside and he would have a lot of activities for us to do. I remember he had a math project where we used gummy bears and that was fun.”
Mitch Haygood, who taught third grade at Gastineau for 12 years with Eddy, said his former colleague always had the right attitude toward teaching.
“He is a very positive person and a real leader,” Haygood said. “He has a lot of knowledge about teaching. He was always very easy to talk to and very helpful. He put everybody at ease and offered constructive advice. I think the best way to describe him, is that he is very wise. I will certainly miss having him around.”
Eddy said he felt retiring from the district at this time was right for him because of the changes made to teaching curriculum. Eddy said he believes the focus for teaching at the elementary level should be geared toward social development rather than extra testing. Eddy added that for the first 20 years he had a lot more freedom teaching, mentioning taking hikes and launching hot air balloons at Sandy Beach as examples. But, with budgetary issues and teaching assessment changes, he felt more “tied down by the curriculum” in recent years.
“I think we need to give (students) a sense that they are valued and they are safe,” Eddy said. “They need to realize they have potential inside themselves. I started out just like them in the Alaskan schools and if I can do it, they can do it. I always wanted to be a good role model and show the value of a good education and that you can learn and have fun.”
Eddy said his retirement plans will involve learning and teaching. He said he has thought about job training, working with people with special needs, elderly people or with high schoolers. Eddy and his wife plan to pursue these new adventures starting in New Mexico but will keep Juneau as their home base.
“I’ve talked to my kids about being a lifelong learner,” Eddy said. “When I add it up, I have been in schools for 45 years of my life. My sisters were teachers, my mother was a cultural teacher and my dad taught a lot of things about boating and boating safety. I have been so immersed in the school schedule that I am ready for something different. I think I have done many years of good work.”
• Contact reporter Gregory Philson at firstname.lastname@example.org or call at 523-2265. Follow him on Twitter at @GTPhilson.