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MDUSD Profile - Jason Haley

Jason Haley

English Teacher

Ygnacio Valley High School

U.S. Army Veteran


Where you are from and where you live now

I was born in Walnut Creek and live in Pittsburg.


How long you’ve been teaching at YV?

I began teaching at YV in the fall of 2002.  16 years!


You are a veteran-turned-educator, and we salute both forms of public service.  Tell us about your military experiences and history.

I was a Czech translator in the Army (98G).  In a war, my job would be to write down what was being said over the radio and pass this information on and to jam enemy transmissions that would result in casualties.


I went to the language school in Monterey (Defense Language Institute) for a 47-week course my first year in the Army, trained in Texas and Massachusetts the next year, and spent the last two years in West Germany when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989.    


 I joined when I was 17 and was honorably discharged at age 21 with the rank of sergeant (E-5).      


What sort of expectations did you have prior to going into the service?

I wanted to travel and make money for college.  I also wanted a challenge and I figured, correctly, that a stint in the Army would afford me that challenge.


How did real life match up?

The job was designed for war an in the absence of war we did a lot of menial tasks.  Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t want to go to war, but it made the job a little dull.


What were some of the more rewarding aspects of your Army experience and, conversely, some of the more challenging aspects?

A chance to gain confidence was the most rewarding aspect.  I was a 17-year-old kid who had a 2.1 grade point average when I barely graduated from Pittsburg High School and didn’t know what I was capable of. I got out of the Army a 21-year-old NCO (non-commissioned officer) with a lot of confidence and $24,400 for college.   I was able to translate this confidence to a BA from UC Berkeley in 1996 and an interview with the FBI in 2004.


The most challenging part was the separation from the country and the loss of personal decision-making.  This is to say the Army would decide where I was going and what I was going to do, and I had to hope that the decision-makers knew what they were doing. 

How did your service experience influence or form the adult you are now?

I try to present myself as the Army taught me.  Professional, honest, intelligent, and caring.


What drew you to education, and what was appealing about teaching English?

I decided to become a teacher when I was 16 years old.  I didn’t like our bland teachers and figured I could do a better job.  But like many of our students, I didn’t see the connection between grades, college and a career.  Students want to be professionals like doctors, but don’t realize that they need the grades to get into college and subsequently get the job they want. I got a degree in English because I like to write, and I wanted a classical education in writing.


How has your Army experience informed your teaching practice?

In the Army you have to present information to the troops and individually train soldiers.  You absolutely have to interact as a team.  This is a form of training that has been passed down uninterrupted since 1775 and it works very well.  I use these tenets when I teach to the class and when I talk to individual students.  The Army instills confidence and when necessary retrains tasks that haven’t been perfected.  This is supposed to be done without belittling the trainee.  


What has been a recent “a-ha” moment in your classroom?

Giving my academic literacy students an exercise where they solve some of the world’s problems such as pollution, homelessness, gun violence, wild fires, drought, etc. and the clever and thoughtful solutions they come up with.  


What has been your own recent a-ha moment?

Realizing Curley’s wife represents racism in chapter 4 in Of Mice and Men.  I tell the students I’ve read this story on average four times a year for 20 years and still learn something new. 


What is the most rewarding aspect of being a classroom teacher?

Teaching students things I didn’t know when I was a student.  For example, coming from a long line of high school dropouts, I knew nothing about college, so I explain terms like units, tuition, undergraduates, etc.  As a veteran, I am also part of a minority, so I tell the students about the benefits of joining the military.  As a linguist, I also show the students the similarities of English, Spanish, German and Russian.


Can you tell us about some of your more memorable teachers and how they influenced you?

One of my greatest influences was my fourth-grade teacher from Hillcrest Elementary School in the MDUSD, Mr. Tony Ligouri.  He was able to talk to us like we were adults and I was able to learn vocabulary from his advanced vocabulary.


Tell us something people may not know about you but that you don’t mind sharing?

I am an accomplished linguist who greeted a parent in Farsi and he told his daughter I had better pronunciation than her, explained why “bathroom” in Croatian “WC” to a student’s mother was, and each year I explain Russian cognates to Spanish-speaking students to make the language less “foreign.”  For example, Луна, ночь and солдат which sound similar to the Spanish words for moon, night and soldier.   


What are you reading now?

“Barracoon” by Zora Neale Hurston.  It’s an interview she did in 1927 with the last confirmed slave who had been stolen from Africa.  It wasn’t published until this year because the publisher refused to print it in Cudjo Lewis’s vernacular.  I learned about this from the NY Times Upfront news magazine for teens we read in class.


What would you like your students to be able to say about their experiences with you?

That I cared about them and wanted them to succeed in whichever way they measure success.


What makes you #MDUSDProud?

Working with the numerous excellent faculty at our school who shall remain nameless but know who they are.


ason Haley and Tank