By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published February 18, 2010
Jerry Beck politely admitted he was a “challenge” to one of his teachers growing up, which makes him sympathetic when his fifth-graders go off track.
“A great sense of humor goes a long way,” said Beck, during a break before his students return to his fifth-grade classroom.
“They are thinkers. They are eager to learn. They are just coming into their own. They are really becoming learners,” Beck said about his students.
Beck, one of the original faculty members at Holy Redeemer School, Johns Creek, was recently applauded by his peers at the annual archdiocesan education banquet.
“I was flattered. I teach with dynamic people. To be recognized by them—it’s a little overwhelming,” said Beck, who has been in the classroom for nearly 20 years.
Beck’s class is tackling adverbs in language arts and studying the American Revolutionary War in social studies. Beck said he draws connections between the students and history by engaging them with personal stories of John Adams, Patrick Henry and the Founding Fathers.
His classroom is decorated with posters of the original 13 colonies, birdhouses decorated in red, white and blue and a large Snoopy cartoon. (It is a theme—he is wearing a tie emblazoned with Peanuts characters.)
A native of St. Louis, Beck is one of four boys and the only one to become a teacher like his mother. Beck’s father worked in the telephone industry.
“My mom always saw something good in everyone. She would find one good quality, and I strive to do that,” he said.
He also credits his third-grade teacher, Mrs. Behnke, for putting him on the teaching path.
“She looked at things a little bit differently. I was one of those students who challenged her. She took an interest in me and really brought out the best in me,” he said, adding that he got to take care of the class guinea pig.
Beck and his wife, Lisa, also a teacher, have three children, Josh, Tim and Dan. They attend St. Brigid Church, where he teaches in the parish school of religion and has led the children’s liturgy. In addition, Beck is the Cub Scout den leader and committee chairman for Pack 7153 chartered from Holy Redeemer School.
Beck taught in public schools in St. Louis for nine years before moving to Atlanta. He thought teaching would be the same in a Catholic school, since it is largely the same craft, the same tricks to encourage students. But the opportunity to engage students on matters of faith is “an amazing difference,” from the opportunity to share the Eucharist to daily prayers, he said.
The terrorist attack on Sept. 11 was a time when prayer was instrumental. Beck found himself in an unplanned history lesson that day. He was leading a computer class and teaching students how to search the Internet. Suddenly, news of the attacks popped up. He quickly turned off the computers. Later, the whole school gathered and prayed together.
“It helped them and me struggle with everything that was going on. It really made it special and bearable,” he said.
Beck was selected by his colleagues for his 10 years of service to the school community. Among other projects, he led the successful effort to earn a Blue Ribbon school achievement for academic excellence. He also worked on the school improvement planning committee and the review, planning and implementation of curriculum and materials.
“I’d encourage everyone to become a teacher. It kind of blows you away. As teachers, we forget sometimes how much of a difference we make,” he said.