La Jolla resident Tom Hassey’s career and residency journey has been anything but straight and narrow. He moved from Arizona to La Jolla to Chula Vista and recently back to La Jolla. He was a high school teacher in the 1960s, then took a break from running radio stations, owning banks and being an entrepreneur before returning to teaching in the 1990s.
Hassey spent the past 25 years teaching economics and law at Chula Vista High School and retired at the end of the winter semester this month, citing his inability to drive due to macular degeneration in 83 years old.
“I would have continued teaching until I was 100, but my eyesight is failing and I can’t drive,” he said.
As everyone navigated distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic before schools opened for in-person classes, Hassey saw an opportunity to make a difference for students and their entire families.
“Parents were listening during off-screen lessons,” he said. “So I would tell my students to have their parents sit with them. I wanted to involve them so they could be part of their child’s learning. Many of my children come from a low-income area, and at the start of the school year, I ask how many of their parents are college graduates. Very few hands go up. I want these kids to succeed, and if their parents are part of the learning process, it helps them move up the ladder.”
While he taught, parents often learned things like interest rates alongside their children, he said. “It’s not just good for kids to know, it’s good for adults to know. We are talking about mortgage rates. One parent said he realized he was paying too much money because he blindly trusted the lender and didn’t know what was considered a good rate.
When the school returned to in-person instruction, some students called their parents and had the phone in class so parents could still participate. Hassey said he finds it “very rewarding” to see changes in the lives of his students – and their parents.
“I have always had good children. Even when they had problems, they were good kids,” he said. “I have never had to expel a child from my class. Children know whether a teacher likes them or not. They can feel it. I would tell them that I love them. I may be hard on them, but I love them. They know that.
In the past, Hassey has used the money left over from the sale of a radio station he was part of to provide start-up funds when former students wanted to start a business or to help fund trips to visit colleges. . “If you have money, you should do something good with it,” he said.
Now at his La Jolla Shores home with his dog, Coco, Hassey said he wasn’t sure what he would do in retirement, but suspected it would be something that would improve the lives of young people.
“I’m going to take a month to decide what to do next,” he joked.
In the meantime, he’s glad to be back in La Jolla Shores. “People are so genuine here,” he said. “I’m so happy to be living in La Jolla again.”
La Jolla Light’s Community Heroes series for the holiday season spotlights people who don’t often make the headlines but are making a difference in the lives of others. ◆