By Fernando Sustaita ’10, M.Ed. ’13
The night before I decided to become a teacher, my wife and I talked for hours about my career change and the impact it would have on our future, and she told me: “The timing is right and if you are going to be happier, then do it.” The next day, I walked into my boss’s office, told him I was ready, and he told me to go home and think about it. I went to my church to pray that I was making the right decision, and when I left something was different. As I exited, I recalled my first conference call in my business career with my peers from around the nation. They asked me, “What is one thing that you would like to do?” Under pressure I said the first thing that came to my mind: “I want to change the world, but I am trying to find out how I can do that.” I regretted my response until the moment I decided to change my path. In that moment, it was clear to me that I was making the right move. The right move also came with a big risk; I was quitting my job with great pay and benefits, in the biggest recession since the Great Depression, to pursue my passion to teach with no guarantee of a job.
For 15 successful years I immersed myself in the business world and applied my passion for driving business results and “changing people’s lives.” This was my management philosophy. With every raise I gave, promotion I signed off on and conversation that I had, big or small, I always thought of how it could change my employees’ lives for the better. Toward the completion of my business degree at Drury, my passion grew toward teaching and coaching youth. I made a decision that at some future point I would pursue a career in teaching. I researched the level in education where I could make the biggest impact and change the most lives. Over and over in my research, middle school emerged as the “purgatory” between elementary and high school that many overlooked. My future destination was set, and I began work on my Master in Education. One year from completion, I was at the point where all I needed to complete were the student teaching courses. I reached a crossroad because I could not student teach and work my current job. I chose to quit a great job with great people for a greater calling to change the lives of middle school students.
March 1, 2014 marked two years since I made that decision. Was it worth it? Absolutely! I now work for Nixa Junior High School as a 7th grade world history teacher; I coach cross country, basketball and track; and I even drive the bus for my athletes to many of our events and practices. Managing all of these roles, and more, has not been an easy feat nor have I accomplished this alone. First, I had the benefit of working in the same school in which I did my student teaching. Actually, I am working in the same room, teaching the same subject, and using material that I developed during student teaching. With the advice of my Drury professors, my burning desire to work in Nixa, and some good old fashioned “great timing,” I took nothing for granted. I took every opportunity to offer my assistance, volunteer extra time, offer my input, and fulfill every responsibility in the classroom. I was blessed with a great mentor teacher, Mr. Eddie Snow, who allowed me to run with my new ideas about the curriculum and classroom control. When a position opened during my student teaching, I asked for recommendations from all of my volunteer resources. I did this to prove that my passion was not a ploy to get a position out of college, but a core competency that would be displayed at all times. In addition to my work ethic, taking online courses through the majority of my career at Drury allowed me to be a resource this year for implementing Blackboard at the junior high level.
I know that it is too soon to judge how successful my first year has been, but the enthusiasm from my students, parents and peers has motivated me to continue to improve and grow in my new career. My failures have been humbling. There have been several sleepless nights when I wondered how to adjust my strategy—or if I should—to help every student understand his or her potential. Whether it is the smile of a student who sees that I care, one of my athletes achieving a win, or the joyful parent who is grateful that their child has an adult mentor, this is evidence that teaching is the right career for me and that now I am helping to change the world.