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A goodbye to the teachers retiring this year

Updated: Sep 20, 2022

When you are a part of a community for so long, it eventually becomes a home. Ingrained in your blood and pumping through your veins, you immerse yourself in experiences within the communal culture and atmospheric tension. Eagle Rock is like the common room of neighborhoods within Los Angeles. It’s safe, and comfortable. A place we find ourselves coming back to. As this year comes to an end, three of our teachers will be leaving: Mr. Lord, Mr. Laird, and Dr. Russell.

Mr. Laird (Written by Briana Garcia)

Mr. Laird's welcoming “Good morning"'s and storytelling make him beloved on campus. Having worked as a teacher at Eagle Rock for roughly a quarter of a century, Mr. Laird feels that working as an educator has been the “biggest part of his life.” While reflecting on his time here at Eagle Rock, he was excited to talk about how many students have shown that they are passionate about the tasks he provides. Laird’s “Lunch Crew” are among many things he cherishes from his time at the school. As he moves onward from the classroom, he still plans to volunteer with the ERHS community and help to foresee the future of the graphic arts program. With his time at the school coming to an end, Mr. Laird is looking forward to seeing what becomes of his many students. He hopes that with his time spent with them in the classroom, they will continue to learn hands-on skills that will benefit them later in life.

Art by Jessica Lau
Dr. Russell (Written by Femi Henry-Chia)

In the many years he’s worked here at ERHS, you may have been taught by him or you may have seen him in the halls. Introducing Dr. David Russell, 10th grade English teacher who is among the handful of staff retiring at the end of the school year. His arms are filled with tattoos, expressions of himself and his artistic obscurity, in the same way his walls are adorned with numerous posters plastered across each corner of his classroom. Each one details his rich artistic insights into the importance of music and film as an outlet for creative expression.

Born and raised in La Sierra, California, a city in Riverside County, Dr. Russell has led an interesting life, as would be expected. His first job was as a paperboy, and later on, he worked at a record store during college where he began to broaden and diversify his music taste. His many days working there sparked his musical curiosity, which he has carried with him throughout his entire life. Later in his life, he even participated in the hippie movement at its height. Embodying the movement, Russell told of the ways in which being a hippie required no money whatsoever. He was also a conscientious objector of the Vietnam War, and managed, by luck, to avoid being drafted.

After graduating from high school in 1971, Dr. Russell went to UC Riverside first as an English major, but switched to Art History soon after. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Art History, and then took a few more classes to get his English degree. While getting his Master’s degree, he briefly lived in Germany in the early 80s as he worked on his thesis. After leaving Germany, he moved to Los Angeles and began his career as an educator. Through these discoveries, his passion for film was rekindled, which led him to get his Doctorate degree in film studies from UCLA in 1995. Dr. Russell spent a total of 20 years in college and an even longer time as an educator, spending 23 years just at ERHS alone.

Music has had a large role in shaping Dr. Russell’s identity. His musical taste ranges from classic rock to punk rock to goth-industrial rock, and he has spent a lot of time attending live concerts of obscure foreign bands, some of which his good friend and fellow colleague, Mr. McGuire, also attended. He also saw the Ramones at the beginning of their career, as well as David Bowie at the Hollywood Palladium.

Similarly, his taste in film leans toward the more esoteric of genres. He can appreciate all genres, mind you, but he especially enjoys horror. To quote, “I can watch a bad horror film and survive the experience but I can’t stand bad comedy or bad animation…” Some of his favorite film directors are David Lynch, Werner Herzog, a German director, and Ben Wheatley, a British director who made the folk horror film “The Kill List.” Of all the decades that he has lived through, his favorite was the 70s for its cultural contributions to music and film.

Dr. Russell initially taught at the college level at schools such as USC, UCLA, and Occidental. However, the bulk of his teaching career has been at ERHS, his first and last experience as a high school teacher. He planned his upcoming retirement to coincide with his son’s graduation as an ERHS senior this year. The first item on his summer agenda is traveling to Dublin, Ireland, and London, England with his son. This begins his personal to-do list of more traveling adventures, reading, and getting back to painting starting with completing a piece that he had begun 10 years ago. He aims to visit Egypt and Athens one day.

Art by Anabella Cuadillo
Mr. Lord (Written by Mar Montoya)

When you are a part of a community for so long, it eventually becomes a home. Ingrained in your blood and pumping through your veins, you immerse yourself in experiences within the communal culture and atmospheric tension. Eagle Rock is like the common room of neighborhoods within Los Angeles. It’s safe, and comfortable. A place we find ourselves coming back to. In the case of a longtime Eagle Rock resident, Mr. Lord didn’t really have to come back, because frankly he never left. But today, after 43 years on this hill, Mr. Lord will find the end of his journey here.

Mr. Lord, currently Eagle Rock High School Vice Principal, started over the hill at Occidental College in ‘79, majoring in biology and minoring in art. He started his time at ERHS in the classroom as an eighth grade science teacher. He still remembers what his first day was like; the feelings and fears. He says he learned more in the first two or three months than in all his preparatory classes. He started as a substitute teacher and found himself understanding the classroom differently as he honed in on his own personal classroom. Lord’s learning experiences were practiced through acknowledgment and understanding. He told me “a lot of kids don’t respect subs, and they do things they think they’ll be able to get away with it.” But despite it, if you keep this awareness, he said you’ll be able to continue these skills and recognize ways to be able to treat and handle kids. Now when we look back at our lovely memories regarding Mr. Lord, this insight perspective gives us a moment of reflecting how he’s able to give the leadership he presents.

During the time I was able to speak with him, a topic that kept being brushed upon was the way administrators are perceived by teachers: which is that they are the enemy. He remembers he was in conversation with someone he worked alongside with, and they’d told him “so you’ve gone to the dark side.” Lord’s response was “No, I’m still on the same side as everyone else.” It was a hardship of his, that because his title had changed, it didn’t mean his heart had changed, and his heart was still in the classroom. Ultimately, the end goal for everyone was to make the school a better place. He reflects on how relationships were deemed to change. Responsibilities change, titles change, but the person you are never really changes.

Right now, Mr. Lord is a vice principal, but he was formerly a magnet coordinator. He got interviewed and promoted for the position 3 weeks before the start of the pandemic. He said that although his retirement plans were shifted, he would’ve rather become an administrator here, than switching schools. He says reestablishing those new relationships were not worth it because “it’s the relationships that enable you to get things done.” He said the extra money is so beyond not worth it.

There had been something, though, which stuck with me intensely. I had asked the question What is something you want to tell to the people of Eagle Rock?, and his response, which I cannot find the will to water down, was word for word: “For everyone here, you need to oursure what makes you happy -- you need to find a way to be happy with what you’re doing. If you’re here studying as a student, you need to find some curiosity and learn things for the sake of learning. If you’re a teacher, you need to find a way to make things exciting for the kids and for you…most of these teachers are teaching something because they pursued that in college, because at one point they loved it, and they need to take that - remember that - and apply that in the classroom…and show the kids the same level of passion.” It's about finding happiness in something, creating a difficulty into something admirable. He wants to give a reminder to administrators; that though they don’t have the connection with the students as much as teachers, they must continuously remind themselves that everything they do is for the benefit and what is best for the students. He wants everyone to understand that we are all on the same team with the same end goal: “letting the kids out when they graduate and watching them succeed.”

Art by Geena San Diego

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