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AU alum teachers buck trend by staying in classrooms

Many Auburn University alumni teachers are bucking the state and national trend that declares as many as 70% of teachers are said to have considered leaving their jobs in recent years.

Although the teacher shortage is not isolated to a specific region, these College of Education alumni offer their own distinctly Auburn responses to “why” they have stayed.

Nick Wilson ’18

Nick Wilson could be making a lot more money, with a lot less stress, working a lot fewer hours, but he’s not leaving the teaching profession any time soon.

“This is the best job in the world,” said the 2018 social science education graduate. “But even still, you have to know your ‘why.’ I started my teaching career with a desire to give back — to my community and my high school that gave me so much. But after I got into this I realized, that’s not enough to stay in it.”

For Wilson, the “why” is not complicated.

A high school coach and career preparation teacher in Ashville, Wilson uses every opportunity to stay connected with his students — his “why.”

“I initially started developing relationships with my students as part of a pedagogical approach,” he said. “But it quickly evolved into my entire focus. I care about these students, and the fact that I can have positive relationships with them — see them at church, talk with them after practice, know what’s going on in their lives outside of school — just makes my job as a teacher that much easier.”

Megan Cook ’13

Megan Cook discovered her passion for the Spanish language and culture in 2006 in Lima, Peru. The then 16-year-old’s mission trip to South America propelled her into a decades-long journey to share her love of other languages and cultures with future generations of students.

“When I started at Auburn, I would have never believed anyone had they told me I would become a middle school Spanish teacher and department chair of world languages,” she said.

Now, in her ninth year of teaching, Cook has seen the highs and lows of the profession.

“Anytime I’m frustrated, or I see the salary of another job that I’m potentially qualified for, I remind myself that the grass won’t be greener and that those opportunities can’t compete with the time I get with students in the classroom,” she said.

It’s the purpose she finds in building relationships with students that overcomes every negative and challenge.

“I can’t imagine another job that is as fun, exciting, entertaining or rewarding. And that’s what keeps me in it. I can’t imagine giving this up.”

DeAngelo Johnson ’20

Beginning a teaching career in the midst of a pandemic was not the plan when he transferred to Auburn as an elementary education major. But that’s the reality DeAngelo Johnson faced when he graduated in December 2020.

“The kids were just happy to have a teacher,” he said. “But it gave me an opportunity to jump in and provide structure.”

Bridging gaps and covering needs, Johnson has moved to several different classrooms in Huntsville, Alabama, during the past few years. He’s now in cybersecurity — a field he had no previous experience in but one that has quickly become one of his strengths.

He’s aware of the challenges in his chosen profession and the complaints of fellow educators. The lesson he touts the most is to remember his “why.”

“Kids know when their teachers are unhappy or don’t want to be there,” he said. “I don’t want that. I tell my students that I didn’t choose this because I hate kids. I love kids. I want to be here for them however I can.”

These alumni teachers have more in common than a love of their alma mater. They have supportive administrations, a clearly defined purpose and a commitment to building relationships with their students. They’re thriving because they know their “why.”

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