One would think that having routinely used my childhood bedroom as a stage for imaginary classrooms filled with stuffed animals and dolls, that in adulthood I would have had a clear inclination that teaching and writing would be my calling. But it would take a trip literally halfway around the world for that self-recognition to slowly begin to surface.
I first discovered my passion for working with English language learners when traveling to China in 2005 as a graduate-student participant in Creighton University’s Student Delegation to China. Teaching an aspect of U.S history or culture was required of every participant as we traveled between rural villages and sophisticated cities. Our visits to education settings ran the full spectrum of kindergarten, elementary, and secondary schools, to an exclusive university. As a result of this experience any thoughts I’d had of returning to my first career as an internationally distinguished professional chef were altered forever.
Since then my experience ranges from teaching culinary arts in the highly regarded Johnson County Community College Hospitality Management program, to teaching fifth graders in the charter year of Tulsa, Oklahoma’s first summer school program for underserved students, to teaching along the continuum of adult ESL classes from “life skills” for U.S. newcomers to business writing for career driven international professionals. I’m also a teacher of teachers, having instructed undergraduate and graduate-level English teacher candidates in China and the U.S., and currently mentoring and coaching teachers of English language learners in K-12 and adult education.
Although English language is my medium for teaching, I have discovered it is really the social justice aspect of teaching that thrills me most. Education can be an equalizer that enables people to participate in society, and yet I cannot discount that many outstanding contributions have been made by individuals with little or interrupted formal education. I don’t see myself as an educator in the traditional sense, but as a teacher who by the very nature of being a life-long learner is fortunate to illuminate a path for others “to discover himself, to recognize himself, and to identify who it is that chooses.” (quote from Thomas Merton’s essay Learning to Live)