Shortly after I became a high school english teacher, a friend remarked that teaching must run in the family. Though the comment took me by surprise, it’s unquestionably true.
I grew up in Wichita, Kansas, the son of a sales manager and a high school math teacher. Apart from my parents and my two older siblings, I was raised by the church and by sports. My childhood was busy and disciplined, but it was a good one.
Though I was always encouraged to think rationally, this was balanced by an emphasis on thinking independently (which explains why my parents never discouraged my dreams of becoming a professional athlete). My family loved me and did what they could to give me a good start at life, whether that meant directing me towards the best available Wichita Public School or paying to help me play club soccer instead of AYSO.
My lack of athleticism quickly inspired a strong sense of humility and, in turn, hard work. My upbringing in the church inspired me to ask broader questions about right and wrong and about society’s limited efforts to empathize with those not as well endowed to achieve their personal goals. But it was not until I made it to college that I recognized how fortunate I was in my upbringing.
I enrolled in Wichita Public Schools from kindergarten through my senior year of high school, when I graduated from Wichita High School East. Thanks to my parents’ focus on mine and my siblings’ education, we all applied and were accepted to East’s International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which allowed us to attend East even though Southeast High was our neighborhood school. Believing (correctly) that this would provide us with the best education possible, my parents set us on a path to open doors.
IB diploma in hand, I applied and received a full ride scholarship to attend Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, where I pursued degrees in English and Marketing. Though I was initially undecided about my future career (the pain of my foiled athletic dreams still stung), my high school experience allowed me the opportunity to explore different subjects and career possibilities.
It was in this season that I began to recognize the rarity of my circumstances. No one knew better than me that there was little reason that I should receive a full scholarship, especially as I grew more aware of the brilliance of my Emory classmates. Gradually, I recognized how critical my circumstances, far more than my inherent merit or hard work, had been to my achieving my personal goals.
This realization didn’t immediately drive me to become a teacher, nor did some inherent sense of purpose. Rather, it began with a few english classes that uncovered my passion for stories. Then, it took a couple of arduous internships spent staring at a computer screen for me to realize that I found joy interacting and creating with others. With time, teaching won me over.
Following my graduation from Emory, I moved to DFW to begin a teaching program that would allow me to pursue a Masters in Education from Johns Hopkins University. Yet again, thanks to my educational foundation, the scholarship at Emory gave me the flexibility to pursue a career in Education and further my studies at the graduate level.
Today, my Mom continues to teach high school math; my brother and my brother-in-law are working as college professors; my sister works for a company in higher education. How this all came to pass remains somewhat of a mystery, but it all comes back to our parents’ emphasis on education and our recognition of the many opportunities it has provided us all in the pursuit of our individual passions.
Though I may not have always known that I was on the path to becoming a “Mister,” my schooling kept it and many other paths clear for me to walk, if I so chose. Everyone can and should hold that same power to choose, and I hope that my work in the classroom can be an incremental shift towards that ideal. In the meantime, uncovering the lessons and joys found in stories is a daily blessing, and I hope that my students leave my classroom empowered with the tools to better understand themselves and their peers.