By Rebecca Norris Howard ’06, M.Ed.
In August 2006, two months after graduating from Drury, I left everyone I knew to climb aboard my first flight, my first trip West—overwhelmed, nervous and elated at the thought of what life in another state would bring. After three flights and a bus ride, I was dropped off on a dusty, lonely highway in a mountain valley.
I found myself in rural Entiat, Washington, because I’d applied and been accepted to Intermountain AmeriCorps, a program that specializes in helping north central Washington residents through their youth programs, community outreach and professional development opportunities for adults. I didn’t know I wanted a career as a teacher then, but I knew from my time at Drury—studying a broad range of subjects such as philosophy, photography, astronomy, and my focus: literature and writing—that I was interested in continuing to learn all I could.
In Entiat, I tutored students who primarily spoke Spanish at home and English at school. I taught a high school French class, volunteered at the food bank, taught English to Spanish-speaking adults, and helped organize family literacy nights. Through teaching language and literacy, I connected with people from a different state and a different culture. My year in AmeriCorps reinforced what I’d already started to realize at Drury: I have always felt called to connect with others, to keep learning and to find meaning in each day, and teaching challenges me to do all three—while encouraging my students to do the same.
I’d always loved school, but Drury was the place where learning became something more than finding myself lost in a book. Drury was a four-year period of intense growth, socially, academically and emotionally. Pearsons Hall, filled with learners of all ages and backgrounds, felt like a club into which I was not only accepted, but wanted. I learned from my peers and professors that true learning meant applying all we know to connect to the people in our lives. My literature and foreign language professors at Drury spoke to my mind and heart.
After returning to Missouri, I knew this is what I wanted to try to do as a teacher too, so I pursued a master’s degree in teaching. During the program, I taught in a variety of settings,
including low, middle, and upper socioeconomic levels. I taught students in public schools, adult English language learners at a private university, and readers of all ages in summer reading courses. I learned something new with every opportunity. In one school in a low socioeconomic area, I learned tough love. Working with a group of teens with difficult home lives and financial struggles bordering on poverty, I struggled to find a more assertive voice and teaching style within myself. I cared for my students so deeply, and I knew I had to change to fit their needs. A firm, yet warm approach with consistent follow-through provided the structure these students needed to bloom. In another school known for its wealth, I saw the endless behind-the-scenes work that goes into crafting and executing engaging lessons. I learned how to teach more inclusively, to create lessons that not only respect, but celebrate different walks of faith, and draw in students from all academic levels.
Today I teach at a small Christian school, and I am learning another way to connect. It’s an amazing blessing to share my spiritual faith with my students and colleagues. In this school, faith-filled community coexists with academic rigor and high standards. I still try to share the love for literature and language I found at Drury, in Pearsons Hall.
I always dare students to ask themselves heartfelt questions: what inspires me? What do I want to see changed? What challenges me? What is worth my time on earth? I began to ask myself these questions ten years ago at Drury. I still ask them today—because learning is about the mind and the heart.