Eisenhower High School teacher Donald Duff DeWitt III is easily one of the most intriguing human beings I’ve ever met. He’s extremely strong-willed and task-oriented, has a fantastic sense of humor and loves hip-hop.
DeWitt (also known as “Dad DeWitt” at the school) is an English teacher who is Eisenhower’s journalism and yearbook instructor. His passion for his job shows, as he often goes above and beyond for all of his students and his career. How he has time for all of this beats me, but he somehow finds a way, every time.
DeWitt is someone who always finds a way. Whether it’s getting funding for the school newspaper, figuring out how to design pages for the school’s publications or getting students to sell more yearbooks than any other school in the district, DeWitt finds a way to do it all, while still cracking jokes every chance he gets.
One of DeWitt’s greatest passions is interacting with the students as a teacher and adviser at Eisenhower. Building up trust with his students is something he seems to find most valuable.
“Do I joke around and make fun?” he asks. “Yes. But not until trust is built. Those jokes come right back at me, and I love it. I like that dialogue, that back and forth.”
His reasoning behind that approach, he explains, is this: “The dialogue back and forth shows that we have almost like a collegial experience, like we are working together. It’s a work environment. If I’m in charge of my work environment, we’re gonna talk about stuff I like. We’re gonna talk about music and movies and sports and we’re going to have a good time with it.”
Much of DeWitt’s connections with students comes from being a music and movie fanatic, someone who often quotes ’80s and ’90s rap groups like A Tribe Called Quest or Wu Tang Clan and makes references to “The Big Lebowski” every chance he gets. He says the first hip-hop record he ever owned was MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This,” which he followed very quickly with music by other artists like Busta Rhymes, A Tribe Called Quest and others.
He also used to listen to angst-riddled teenage rock back during his high school days.
“I was the depressed rock dude,” he recalls. “Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains. That was more my stuff. It was fun to sing to.”
Getting a little more philosophical about his music appreciation, DeWitt credits The Beastie Boys for bridging the gap between rock and hip-hop for him. He feels the two genres really aren’t that different in terms of subject matter.
“What at that time was called grunge were a bunch of poor, drug-addicted white kids singing about the depression of their lives, right? Broken hearts, abusive parents, addiction — a lot of the same topics that pop up in Tupac (Shakur) or Biggie (Smalls).
“The transition came easy for me because of the Beastie Boys. The Beastie Boys acted like the bridge between two worlds of music. They kind of straddled that because they had rock infused in what they did, and that brought me over to that (hip-hop).”
Señor DeWitt — another one of his monikers at the school — is truly a one-in-a-million kind of teacher. Students don’t often meet many people with his level and style of unbridled honesty. He’ll tell you how he feels, and won’t hold anything back. During my time in school, he became one of the best teachers I’ve ever had, hands down.
Students talk about teachers having that “it” factor, and DeWitt definitely has “it.” The combination of his charisma, drive, and ability to do the unthinkable make Donald Duff DeWitt III a force for Eisenhower’s students to be reckoned with. Or, if nothing else, someone his students feel comfortable enough with to throw insults at.
Like his bald head, DeWitt shines above the crowd and leaves a mark wherever he goes. And for many students who connect so well with him, it’s very much an emotional mark.
• Diego Lopez, a 2017 graduate of Eisenhower High School, was a member of the Yakima Herald-Republic’s Unleashed program for teen journalists.