Behind the Apple — Jack Eustace, Givhans Alternative Program
Jack Eustace, 57, of Ravenel, is an enigma. By day he is a seventh and eighth grade math and science teacher at Givhans Alternative and by night, he is dancing around a ballroom.
What makes him even more remarkable is he is literally screwed together.
Eustace grew up in New Jersey, joined the Navy, served in Desert Shield, got hurt in Desert Storm and was separated from service for medical reasons. Two surgeries at the Naval hospital in Charleston put his shoulder back together, with screws. Then, breaking up a fight last November between two girls, he ruptured a disc and, after physical therapy didn’t work, went under the knife to have screws inserted to fuse the discs.
Oh, and then there are the screws in his neck holding three vertebrae together, the result of his past vocation as a pipefitter with a bit of genetics thrown in.
But back to the beginning. After leaving the Navy, he worked at a pipefitter at the Naval Shipyard until it closed.
Through the Job Training Partnership Act, he finished college with a degree in elementary education. He then got certified in learning disabilities and became “highly qualified in math and science enabling him to teach at the middle school level.
So, at 41 years of age, he started his teaching career at DuBose Middle School.
“I’ve always taught people as a pipefitter,” he says, “and as a pastor at my church, the best times were teaching, not preaching.”
So he took his two associate’s degrees, one in arts and one in industrial management, got his bachelor’s and applied at both Charleston County and Dorchester District Two.
“DD2 gave me a sub job within a week,” he says, “so I was a long-term sub at DuBose in an LD self-contained class. I found out I really loved the kids so I went and got certified.”
When they opened Gregg Middle School Archie Franchini, the principal, asked me to come to Gregg for LD so I taught there for five years in an LD self-contained.”
Eventually, he says he got tired of all the Special Ed [federal] paperwork so he called Joyce Dearing (principal at Givhans) and asked her if she had an opening.
“She asked me what I wanted to teach and I told her math and science…I’ve been teaching both ever since.”
Dearing had been the eighth grade assistant principal at Gregg and they had agreed they would both love to work at a behavior school.
“I have saws back there,” he says, pointing behind his desk. “I apply math to reality and the kids love it. I tell them that my brother, a carpenter in NJ, makes $60 an hour and they are amazed to find out they can make good money in a legitimate job.
His biggest failure, he says, is when he loses a kid to expulsion. “Part of teaching the academics, is teaching behaviors first,” he says. “We need to teach them to transfer those behaviors to life (outside of school).”
If they come back it is a new day, he continues. “We don’t look back, just forward.”
His best experiences are when kids come back four or five years later and say, “Mr. Eustace, this is what I am doing now….”
“I had a kid the other day who told me he is in a four-year college and interning at an engineering firm…I get teary but I try not to let them see it. I’m the tough guy, the guy who rides a motorcycle….”
Sadly, he’s not riding a motorcycle anymore since his back surgery, nor can he do Tai Kwon Do anymore.
But when not in the classroom, he is working with students to plant and care for the school garden, running the PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention System) and mentoring new teachers.
He was the Givhans Teacher of the Year in 2005 and, before that, was Gregg Teacher of the Year and in the final four for the district in 2002.
At home he and his wife Cindy dance. The parents of two - Tammy, 36 and Shawn, 34 - they teach ballroom dancing privately and enjoy dancing whenever they can. At the moment he can’t dance, until his back heals enough, but he is looking forward to tripping the light fantastic very soon.
He enjoys saltwater fishing, cake decorating and cooking.
“I used to weld stuff in the backyard, especially after trying to teach my daughter algebra…banging on something was great.”
He is known around school for his Eustacisms. “My students learn sarcasm from me,” he says. “And they sometimes use it with other teachers…it is better than saying ‘…. You’ … no one is offended and they don’t get into trouble.”
“You never know what they are going to learn from me,” he laughs.
His professional goal is to “turn out a better product…think of this [students] as a product. With other products you can reject the ones that don’t turn out right. With them, you can’t reject them so you have to take care with what we put in, what we infuse in class reflects on our future citizenry.
“I want to be proud when a student says ‘that’s my teacher.’”
In life, his goals are simple.
“I want to be back dancing by Thanksgiving and walk two miles in the mountains by Christmas.
“My wife is my best friend of 37 years and I want to be able to do things with her.”