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Leading With Kindness

By Hannah Jacobs, marketing and communications intern
Celebrated Middle School history educator, Richard Nelson, retires after a 41-year long career at LJCDS.
Over a 41-year long career at LJCDS, Richard Nelson has impacted thousands of students with his wit and dedication to Middle School history. He has passionately taught for his entire career and will be retiring at the end of the 2019–2020 school year. 

“Richard has inspired more students in his years teaching at LJCDS than he or anyone else can even imagine,” shares Betsy McCallum, Middle School math educator. “A part of him will always be at LJCDS because his kindness and good heart will forever be associated with seventh-grade history.”

Mr. Nelson began his career at LJCDS in fall 1979. While completing his teaching credential, he visited his favorite professor at UC San Diego for a letter of recommendation and was informed about an opening in the Middle School history department at LJCDS. He applied and has been a celebrated educator in the Torrey community ever since. 

“In my humble opinion, Richard is on the Mount Rushmore of La Jolla Country Day School master teachers,” shares Brian Murphy, director of financial assistance and enrollment management and former head of Middle School. “He is the gold standard when I think of the Middle School educators that I have had the opportunity to call colleagues. As great as Richard is as an educator, he is an even better human being.” 

Mr. Nelson is known to his colleagues and students alike as witty, passionate and dedicated. Alumni remember him starting his class in the front of the room with a golf swing. Mr. Nelson’s quick wit and sense of humor will be deeply missed. 

“My best memories of Richard will always be his ability to lighten the mood of a meeting or faculty lounge conversation with a well-timed (or poorly-timed) pun,” shares Nate Heppner, Middle School English educator. “The world needs more pun-masters, and Richard’s retirement means that LJCDS will be losing one of the best.” 

Mr. Nelson’s passions for history and building relationships with his students have allowed him to become a celebrated teacher and friend to the LJCDS community over the course of his 41 years in the classroom, totaling approximately 7,380 school days or 36,900 hours. He’s known to put the students before everything else, while still holding teaching and education to the highest regard. “Richard’s impact on LJCDS cannot be overstated. Not only has he helped mold thousands of young minds, but he has been a tremendous advocate for humanities and the importance of a well-rounded scholar,” explains Ian Han ’10. “While I may not still, 16 or some years later, remember all of the Egyptian pharaohs, I do remember the spark for curiosity and love for education that classes like Mr. Nelson’s ignited.”

The signature clay project for seventh graders ignited this curiosity in students. Teams of students were responsible for writing a paper on an ancient/medieval architectural or engineering wonder of their choosing, and building a small scale model of it out of clay. “Since I kept finished projects on the shelves, students would ask me if and when it would be their turn to create them,” shares Mr. Nelson. “Former students who returned to say hello were far more likely to ask me if I still had their clay project than to tell me how I changed their lives.”

Mr. Nelson’s passion and enthusiasm for teaching every day will be missed perhaps most of all. “He made history much more fun and relatable than a set of facts,” recalls Jorian Polis Schutz ’01. “He felt more like a friend and fellow sojourner than a teacher or authority. He impacted us all because he shared his enthusiasm with us. For me, it definitely caught on. I've been loving and studying history ever since.”

Once retired, Mr. Nelson is excited to travel, read, work in his yard and spend time with his very large family. “When I retire, I will miss the atmosphere of the campus, greeting kids and colleagues in the morning,” shares Mr. Nelson. “I will miss the intense satisfaction of teaching a successful lesson that captures the students’ interest in a subject I love.” 
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