New Art Teacher Finds His Zone in Shaker

A long way from ski slopes in Syracuse, James Rodems is enjoying his new roles


Maggie Smith

James Rodem instructs students during a 10th period art class.

James Rodems’ first teaching job was on the ski slopes. In high school, however, he realized that his zone was in the arts. Now, he is in his first year teaching art at Shaker.

Rodems, who teaches Art Exploration, Ceramics and Mixed Media, wants to give students the same high school experience that he had. He wants students to find an area that they love and excel in — a new “creative outlet.”

“We’re all creative in our own different way,” he said. “It just matters on how you can get there, how does that get released, how do you get broken free from your norm and into that creative mind.”

Once Rodems reached his own creative mind, he discovered he wanted to teach other students how to do the same thing. He attended Case Western Reserve University, where he majored in art education. After he graduated, Rodems taught for four years before coming to Shaker.

Rodems first took a teaching position in his hometown of Syracuse, NY. He taught at Lakewood High School last year, but his sister-in-law Donna Jelen, the high school’s orchestra director, alerted him to an available position. Knowing he wanted to stay in the Cleveland area, he applied for the Shaker position while he was working in Lakewood.

“I did know that there was a position open,” Jelen wrote in an email interview, “but I was gone for a lot of the summer and don’t recall mentioning the opening to anyone. I had no idea that James had applied for the job until he told me that he had gotten it. I was (of course) very excited to for him!”

Rodems has found more variety in Shaker’s halls than he expected. “It’s a pretty diverse school, a lot more so than some other ones that I’m used to, but I like that,” he said. “I think the more diverse, the better the learning environment.”

In his first weeks at Shaker, fellow teachers advised Rodems “to keep students interested” above all else.

Rodems does this by learning alongside his students. “If I’m not engaged in it,” he said, “my students aren’t engaged in it.”

As for new challenges at Shaker, Rodems laughed when reflecting on the high school’s surprising Tuesday schedule. He said he noticed some students forget about Tuesday late starts as well.

He is slowly learning the school’s ins and outs. Rodems said, “Shaker has very high standards compared to other schools, which is a good thing. You can teach anywhere, but the environment you teach in dictates how you teach.”

In any environment, however, Rodems said he enjoys teaching “outside what people think is the normal classroom . . . trying to introduce someone to an area that they might be more comfortable in.”

Besides becoming a Shaker Heights employee and homeowner, Rodems has faced another first: he and his wife, also an art teacher, are new parents.

Rodems is dealing with his life’s new developments, from work to family, through his art. “I can honestly say that everything I do involves art in some way, shape or form,” he said.

Staff Reporters Grace Lougheed and Yasmine Kayali contributed reporting.

This story is the second entry in Spotlight’s ongoing “Meet the Newbies” series.

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