When asked what he likes best about what he does, it takes John Dalton a few moments to gather his thoughts, because there are so many things he loves about teaching Digital Filmmaking 1 and 2 at Alameda High School.
“I love helping young adults express themselves using video and multimedia technologies. I love helping them tap into their creativity, and helping them explore college and career opportunities. I love igniting a spark in them so they can explore their creative instincts and not be judged. This job makes you feel validated. What could be cooler?”
His enthusiasm and dedication earned him the title Alameda Teacher of the Year in 2014-15. At that time, he told local media, “I couldn’t feel more ecstatic, honored and humbled. It’s unbelievable. It’s really the students that got me here, and this affirms I’m doing something right by them. My students have been amazing — and they continue to inspire me.”
Students are also inspired by Dalton. In addition to being dedicated, charismatic and enthusiastic, he has overcome enormous challenges. When he was a teenager, he came down with a bacterial infection that nearly killed him and required amputation of both legs, his right hand, and his left fingers down to the knuckle. But Dalton never let his physical challenges define him.
The doctors were able to create a space between Dalton’s first two hand bones so he could hold items and even resume playing the bass guitar. His band is named Angry Amputees (although Dalton is the only one) and has traveled the world. One of their songs was featured on the soundtrack for the video game Tony Hawk’s Underground, which won an MTV Video Music Award for best soundtrack. The band is now planning a reunion tour.
“ I love helping young adults express themselves using video and multimedia technologies. I love igniting a spark in them so they can explore their creative instincts and not be judged.”
Film became a passion for Dalton. In college he would write short stories in margins and then visualize them as scenes. He took a screenwriting class, and even now, his favorite part of filmmaking is screenwriting and editing.
Dalton started out as a media consultant at Alameda High School in 2007, and became a full-time instructor in 2008, teaching TV/media, digital filmmaking and multimedia arts, as well as the school’s AVID program. Long an advocate of career technical education (CTE), he has worked to align his TV/media program with Laney College’s film and video classes to create a smooth transition for high school students seeking to further their studies. He recently created an advanced digital media film class and has applied for his classes to be “a-g” certified (eligible toward university admission). Dalton also developed, launched and now manages the public-access television stations NextGen TV Channel 29 for Alameda Unified School District and the city of Alameda.
The school community can stay tuned for some exciting changes, says Dalton.
“We’ve had architects look at my classroom over the last week, and using city of Alameda funds matched with state funding, the room will be converted into a public-access TV station managed by the city. My classroom will move next door. And a work experience program will launch for advanced students looking to get a foothold in the industry, whereby they can be hired (with pay!) directly into the newly created Community Media Center.” His advice for surviving an era of CTE cutbacks is simple, but it’s worked: “Make your class so popular that the district wants to keep it, and recruit students of all ages.” Recently his digital filmmaking program was expanded to neighboring Encinal High School.
Several students whom Dalton has instructed to “go make a movie” and who edit their productions in class, often collaboratively, have won awards at local film festivals. Dalton says he is extremely proud of the films they create. He describes his teaching style as a mix of being “loose, interactive and academic,” and comments, “You have to keep students on point, because it’s easy for them to get distracted in this kind of class. You have to keep them in the zone.”
Students love his positive energy and use words like “passion,” “expertise” and “dedication” to describe Dalton, who is vice president of the Alameda Education Association.
“Entertainment is something big in my generation, and I love learning how to do it in ways that are advanced,” says Kahlim Davis. “Our teacher really knows his stuff. I’m looking forward to making movies in this class that will tell stories of my generation in interesting ways.”