Sean Eldon, Huron High School English teacher; department chair

Photos and video by Jo Mathis/AAPS District News

Sean Eldon grew up in Birmingham, Michigan, the oldest of three children to a carpenter and a bank teller. Neither of his parents had a college degree but both of them were incredibly hard-working, and as he grew up, his parents were able to put Sean and both of his siblings through college.

By the time he graduated from Seaholm High School, he knew two things: he loved to read and he wanted to teach English. At Eastern Michigan University, Eldon says a series of remarkable teachers and professors inspired, mentored and guided him to a student teaching placement at Community High School in Tracy Anderson’s classroom. In 2002, Eldon was hired at Huron High School, except for 2011-12 school year, when he taught English 9, 10, and 11 at Skyline High.

Eldon is deeply engaged in Huron’s IB transition, and he’s loved the opportunity to work alongside his colleagues in re-imagining English classes at Huron, including what students do, what they read, what they write.

He has also been hugely supportive of the teacher’s union, the AAEA. As the son of a tradesman, Sean he says he understands how crucial organized labor is to providing fair working conditions and avenues for advancement and economic opportunity to the workers who make our world go.

Eldon and his wife Aimee, who also teaches at Huron,  have two children, Peter and Anna, who attend Wines Elementary School. The family enjoys reading, gardening, cooking, hiking, swimming, and soccer.

What is your fondest memory of high school English class? My fondest memories of high school revolve around Linda Petranak, my 9th grade English teacher, forensics coach, and theater advisor. She was kind, sincere, and serious, generous with her time and attention, and she helped encourage me to be open-minded and to take risks by getting involved in forensics competitions, poetry readings, and plays. Her classroom was exciting and rigorous, but I also now see how accommodating she was of her students–everyone could succeed in her class.

In which other teacher’s classroom would you like to enroll, if only for a day? Why? An art class at Huron, especially one taught by Jonathan Smigell, Soyeon Kim, or Kristin Kubacki. Each of them has a talent for creating an atmosphere of creativity and collaboration: their rooms are filled with light, music, and art. Each of them is a talented artist in their own right, so students know that their opinions come from a lifetime of learning the craft of art–how to solve technical problems, how to respond when inspired, how to give and receive critiques. Taking a ceramics class with Mr. Smigell would be a particular treat.

In your 17 years in AAPS, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned about teaching? About learning? The  most important thing I’ve learned is to teach students not classes–that every single kid deserves to have a teacher who cares, a teacher with a good sense of humor, good judgment, a willingness and passion for finding what motivates each of their students. I’ve also learned that young people are more open-minded, more thoughtful, more passionate, and kinder than the average adult–that the student with a bad attitude yesterday just needs a little patience so that they can have a better attitude today and tomorrow.

Five favorite books? Ever? That’s a tough one. But I love (in no particular order) “Candide” by Voltaire, “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison, “The World’s Wife” by Carol Ann Duffy, “Wonder” by R. J. Palacio, and “Guns, Germs, and Steel” by Jared Diamond.

What do you know about teaching now that you wish you’d known that first year? I wish I knew what a marathon it is–especially that building relationships with colleagues and students takes time and continual practice, and that sometimes taking it seriously means taking it easy. By that I mean that we teach in a demanding environment where expectations are high and that puts people–and some more than others–at risk of cracking under the pressure. Being flexible with students and colleagues allows us to ease off at times, and that’s good for everyone’s health and wellness.

How do you keep students engaged? By asking them questions about their experience at school; and by talking, talking, talking with them about their ideas and passions and questions. We feel that a person is funnier, smarter, more reliable than the average person when we know that person cares, so I want to show my students that I care. In turn, they show their caring to one another, and the better I know them, the more interesting I find their writing, their ideas about literature and reading, and their questions about the world.

What excites you most about Huron’s transition to IB?
The transition to IB has been exciting and daunting, and it’s unique in Ann Arbor as it involves turning the big ship of high school in a completely new direction. But what I’m most excited about is how it re-frames what and how students learn to emphasize that little Ann Arbor is part of a huge world, and the more we look at how we fit in the world, in part by pushing back against the barriers and lines that have traditionally divided people from one another—everything from public school boundary lines to the national borders—to ask what we have in common and how we can most thoughtfully participate in the big conversations that are happening everywhere in a changing world. I don’t have a crystal ball that shows how the world will change, and neither does anyone I know. So the best we can do is mentor and coach kids in the skills that are needed to be thoughtful, engaged, ethical participants in these big conversations.

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