ROGERS PARK — Jordan Community School teacher John Mahon eats lunch with his seventh- and eighth-grade students, tutors them three days a week after school and — when they get a little older — hires them at the country club pool he manages over the summer.
"He works with kids on a level I've rarely seen," said Jordan's assistant principal Cindy Zucker, who was a teacher for 25 years.
Mahon, 33, picks about 20 of the school's most promising students and tutors them three days a week after school to prepare them for the high school selective enrollment test.
So far he's had some success. Last year five of the students he tutored placed in some of the higher-performing high schools in the city.
"You do good in school if you like school," Mahon said, repeating his teaching mantra, and what motivates him to be at the school until 6 p.m. nearly every day helping out with other after school activities, like the track and field team.
Mahon's social studies classroom on the school's second floor was empty during lunch. As he talked about teaching "the American story" for the past 10 years at the school, two of his students arrived with trays of hot dogs and chocolate milk from the cafeteria, hoping to hang out with Mr. Mahon on their lunch break.
He offered them a bagel to give him some time to finish his interview.
On a normal, uninterrupted day, Mahon doesn't push his students away. The day before, he said, one of his former students was in his office who needed help to making up unfinished assignments for his classes at Von Steuben, a nearby high school.
Zucker said Mohan uses fiction and non-fiction literature to teach about social studies concepts like war and peace. A copy of The Hunger Games was placed on each desk in his classroom.
"Sometimes you do something that's just fun," Mahon said referring to the popular teen novel. "Every kid loves it. And if they say they don't, they're faking it."
He remembers his students during the summer months, too, often hiring them when they're old enough to clean bathrooms and lifeguard at the Ridgemoor Country Club's pool he manages.
"It's a mindless job, but it's sometimes relieving when you have to think so much at your [regular] job," he said.
Mahon, who was born and raised in Chicago and received his master's degree from Northwestern University, commutes from Jefferson Park.
"I think it's like any job," he said. "Some days are really good, some are great, and others you're glad you have sick days."