ST. CHARLES – Audrey Ernst is a junior in high school, but she still reflects on her Haines Middle School social studies teacher James McCarron, who is retiring this year.
His teaching was extremely immersive – he brought the outside world into the classroom by lining the walls of his room with covers of Time magazine and teaching students to fill in maps with cities, roads, waterways and mountains. He also coached multiple sports, but primarily track and field.
Ernst appreciates all of that, but she was most affected by a rainy canoe trip in northern Wisconsin.
“I learned that even though I was a good swimmer, the survival of the fittest in this situation was preparedness and quick thinking and the ability to think outside of the box and brainstorm and be calm like Mr. McCarron taught us,” she said.
McCarron and his students had to canoe on rapids, set up tents and prepare food during miserable weather and no contact with the outside world.
He said there was a St. Charles High School teacher who would take students on an annual canoeing trip on the Rio Grande in Texas.
“I fell in love with the outdoors and canoeing and the wilderness,” he said.
McCarron was inspired to earn a degree in outdoor education.
“I decided to carry it on with middle school kids, but not as intense as Texas,” McCarron said.
Instead, he took students six hours north to the Flambeau River in Wisconsin.
“It goes through a national forest and has some whitewater, so it’s a little exciting for the kids,” he said.
Asked about his favorite part of teaching, McCarron answered, “Probably all of the travel I’ve gotten to do through teaching, taking students on trips abroad and different parts of the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, China, Ireland.”
As much as McCarron has helped to show the world to his students, they’ve given him a fresh perspective through their curiosity.
“I definitely like interacting with the kids,” he said. “They always ask interesting questions that lead to interesting discussions. Sometimes you have to go wherever their interests are, so long as it doesn’t go too far off. ... But their views are so limited because they’re 12 and 13. They weren’t even alive for 9/11. Sometimes it doesn’t sound like very long ago. It’s interesting sometimes what they’ll ask.”
McCarron got the idea of tacking up Time magazine covers from another St. Charles teacher at Wredling Middle School.
“If we’re studying Russia, then I’ll point out the Russian leaders,” he said. “It helps to have all of these things around if they ask questions, too. Some of the kids get into looking around and trying to figure out the stories.”
There’s a lot for the students to look at and figure out.
“The room’s pretty full after 32 years,” McCarron said. “I don’t do every cover because that would be 52 every year. I just do select covers if they feature a particular person or event. Now I’m getting even more selective because I’m running out of room.”
Since McCarron is retiring, he said another teacher asked to inherit the covers. The legacy will continue, and students will continue to see history on the walls in Haines Middle School.
McCarron’s retirement activities are unplanned, but that doesn’t seem to bother him.
“I have a sixth-grader and eighth-grader,” he said. “I’ll be doing a lot of driving and going to their stuff. I’m going to do whatever I want to do with the rest of my day, so it’ll be really nice.”
He also plans to continue to learn about the world like he’s been doing already as a teacher.
“I still read all the Time magazines every week; it’s not just the covers,” he said. “I’ve been watching a lot of the documentaries on Netflix. I read a lot of historical biographies. I read ‘Hamilton,’ and then the play came out.”
McCarron hasn’t seen the play yet and hopes to score some tickets.
Thanks to McCarron’s thorough teaching, students such as Ernst have had the world opened up to them.