Jim O’Connor, a math teacher at St. Francis High School in La Canada, California, has always had a bit of a…complicated reputation among his students.
“What’s the word…” is all one student can say about him, when asked by CBS News. “He’s going to be seeing this, right?”
What he doesn’t say out loud is that the 70-year-old Vietnam veteran is a notoriously strict, no-nonsense teacher.
And the first person to admit it is O’Connor himself.
“It drives me crazy when people say school should be fun,” he tells CBS. “I mean, it’s nice if it could be, but you can’t make school fun.”
But that’s one of the funny things about high school—we spend every day with our teachers, but only make a judgement of their character based on what we see in the classroom. We usually never get to know them as regular people.
So imagine the shock the students received when they realized there was a different side to O’Connor that they never saw.
Everything changed when a senior named Pat McGoldrick started visiting Children’s Hospital Los Angeles as part of a blood drive he was organizing.
He noticed something strange—whenever he mentioned his high school, the faculty would sing the praises of his tough-as-nails math teacher.
“Oh, you must know Jim O’Connor. Isn’t he wonderful?” he recalled them saying, according to CBS.
Pat didn’t understand. But the more he visited the hospital, the more surprising layers he uncovered about his teacher.
For one, he was a legendary blood donor. Pat noticed a plaque listing the top donors at the hospital.
O’Connor’s name held the record at the very top.
“It was disbelief, really,” Pat told CBS. “It was almost, like, kind of finding this alter ego that he has.”
But there was an even bigger bombshell that totally changed his view of his teacher.
O’Connor volunteers at the hospital three nights a week—cuddling sick babies.
Erin Schmidt, a nurse at the hospital, praised his volunteer work, which he had been doing for the past 20 years. The teacher holds and feeds the babies, comforting them when their parents are unavailable.
“They tend to calm for him,” she says. “They tend to relax with him. They fall asleep with him.”
But Jim, who never married and has no kids of his own, gets as much back from them.
“I just like them and relate to them somehow,” O’Connor tells CBS.
“I don’t want to see them alone,” he adds, emotionally. “You can’t do that.”
As much as O’Connor is a stereotypical tough teacher, he’s also, it turns out, a model humanitarian.
And while he understandably keeps up the tough-guy act for the sake of teaching his math class, it’s that softer side that left Pat with an even more important lesson.
“I’ve always respected him, but now it’s to an even different degree—really to the point where I try to emulate him,” Pat told CBS.