Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

Why I Became a Teacher

July 6, 2015

July 6, 2015

By Rebekah Schilperoort

We asked some of our newest Milken Educators “What factors influenced your decision to become a teacher?” For some it was an innate calling at a young age. For others it was a deeply personal experience. But no matter the path, these educators have profound reasons for choosing the teaching profession. Click through this gallery to read their inspiring stories

Students and teachers recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

Tracy Espiritu (NJ '14) 

Tracy Espiritu gets hugs from students

Tracy began her career at an engineering company, then lost her job due to downsizing. But training junior engineers while still at the company, she realized that she had a knack and passion for teaching.

“Looking back, I may have been naïve in my decision to teach, thinking, as what the general public may think also, ‘how hard can it be?’ To my surprise, it is the hardest, thankless job I ever ended up loving. I am grateful for the turn of events that lead me to become a teacher, otherwise I would not have found my calling.” (STEM Teacher at Dr. Albert Einstein Academy #29 in Elizabeth, NJ)

Bio | Photos | Video
Jana Fukada (HI ’14)

Jana Fukada walks to accept her Milken Educator Award.

Jana’s experiences as a student—in particular what she learned from her many great teachers over the years—drew her to the teaching profession.

“As a young girl I always dreamed about becoming a teacher because my teachers were able to make learning so much fun. As I got older, school was not as easy for me but my teachers always took the time to help me understand what was being taught. My teachers fostered within me a desire to learn, challenge myself and explore. I wanted to share that same experience with others.” (Curriculum Coach at Mililani Uka Elementary School in Mililani, HI)

Bio | Photos | Video
Ana Gutierrez (AZ ’14)

Ana Gutierrez walks with some of her students.

Ana came to the U.S. with her parents at a very young age. Her experience in the American education system was a significant influence on her choice to become a teacher.

“My decision to enter education is a direct result of having wonderful teachers and education opening the door for growth and opportunity in this country. My parents immigrated to this country when I was 2 years old. They always reminded me that the United States was a place where people came to follow their dreams. At a very young age, it was inculcated that the only way to achieve your dreams and aspirations was through a college education. When I first started school in the U.S. I knew very little English, but with the help of my teachers and aides, I was able to learn and exceed academically. As education opened many doors for me, I decided in college that I wanted to do the same for my community. I decided that through teaching I could affect the lives of many students who experienced similar challenges as I faced. To this day, I know that every student who walks through our doors deserves as excellent an education as any other student in the country does. My love of learning and teaching continues to motivate me to become a better teacher and to help nurture the value of life-long learning in others.” (TAP Master Teacher at Wildflower School in Goodyear, AZ)

Bio | Photos | Video
Angela Harvala (MN ’14)

Angela Harvala hugs her daughter, Aubrey.

Angela’s love of learning and passion for teaching was awakened at an early age by equally passionate and dedicated teachers.

“I was lucky to have many passionate, clever teachers as a child that instilled a thirst for knowledge and love for math and books. They made solving problems exciting and literature come alive. But, more importantly, they made a difference in my life. I know from the time I was young that I wanted to help others discover the wonders I had been shown. I found a knack for guiding children in the acquisition of knowledge and skills. I also took pride in the success of others. The way their eyes lit up in response to understanding ignited my excitement for teaching. More importantly, knowing I was making an impact beyond that of academics cemented my decision to become part of this important, evolving and noble profession.” (Teacher at North Elementary School in Princeton, MN)

Bio | Photos | Video
Maggie Hawk (MD ’14)

Maggie Hawk hugs students.

Maggie’s personal struggles with a learning disability fueled her desire to teach.

“When I was in first grade, my teacher made a profound impact on my life. She taught me how to be excited about learning while challenging me every day to reach my full potential. One of the personal challenges I had to overcome as a student was being dyslexic. From an early age, I was able to overcome challenges through hard work and determination, as well as the support of my teachers and family. Through my personal struggles, I was inspired to become an educator so I could teach kids and challenge them to reach their full potential through hard work and the relentless pursuit to become their best self. My first grade teacher first exposed me to this attitude toward learning and made me realize very early in life that becoming a teacher was not only going to be my future but a lifelong passion!” (First-grade teacher at Yellow Springs Elementary School in Frederick, MD)

Bio | Photos | Video
Michelle Johnson (DC ’14)

Michelle Johnson demonstrates her teaching skills.

Teaching is a “calling” for Michelle.

“Each day I wake up excited to get to school and help our young students reach their potential through fostering a love of learning. I know that instilling a love of learning in students ensures a brighter future for them and all mankind.” (Second-grade teacher at Seaton Elementary School in Washington, DC)

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Carman McBride (AR ’14)

Carman McBride poses with her students and the Milken Award check.

At a very young age, Carman felt the pull to become an educator and discover new and creative ways to teach for different learning styles.

“A teacher is one of the only jobs that every child gets the opportunity to observe over and over again. I had some extraordinary teachers growing up and always wanted to impact children the way they had impacted me. I’ve always thought in terms of different learning styles and modes of communication. I would evaluate presenters or teachers in my head and think of ways that they could communicate to their audience more effectively. It was fun for me! I looked up to teachers and communicators who taught in unique and creative ways. They had the ability to captivate and inspire me to change. I knew that one day if I became a teacher I, too, could do that.” (EAST Facilitator at Don R. Roberts Elementary School in Little Rock, AR)

Bio | Photos | Video
Desi Nesmith (CT ’14)

Desi Nesmith, seated, reacts to winning the Milken Educator Award.

Growing up in a family of educators, teaching is a profession that Desi has always revered.

“I knew at a very young age that I wanted to be a teacher. My father was a fifth-grade teacher in Hartford, Connecticut. My brothers and I would go up in the summer to help set up his classroom. My grandmother was a paraprofessional in the same school. I come from a long line of educators, including aunts, uncles and cousins.” (Principal of Metacomet School in Bloomfield, CT)

Bio | Photos | Video
Lindsey Parker (LA ’14)

Lindsey Parker helps students with a lesson.

As a fourth generation teacher, Lindsey knew first-hand the rewards and challenges that would accompany the profession.

“In the end, I looked to two of the most influential teachers in my life; my gifted teacher Mrs. Thompson and my mother, who taught me middle school English language arts. I wanted to make a difference in my community by making a difference in individual student lives. There’s no regret, no second-guessing of my decision to become a teacher. Each day I recommit to this work and I consider being an educator a lifestyle choice. Teaching fills my entire life with purpose and love that continues to multiply over time.” (TAP Master Teacher at North DeSoto Elementary 3-5 School in Stonewall, LA)

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Anthony Petrelis (MA ’14)

Anthony Petrelis gets some help talking to the media.

Anthony’s “love for helping others” influenced his decision to become a teacher.

“I get a lot of gratification in helping people and students achieve their goals. I know that I sometimes struggled in school and had difficulty with concepts, so I want to be there for the children like my teachers were there for me.” (Fifth-grade teacher at McGlynn Elementary School in Medford, MA)

Bio | Photos | Video | Related Story: Milken Educator Shaves Head for Kids with Cancer
LeeAnna Rabine (SD ’14)

LeeAnna Rabine talks to the media.

Seeing the lives her parents positively impacted as educators was incredibly inspiring to LeeAnna.

“I love working with children and making a positive difference in their lives. I appreciate that I can utilize all of my passions in my classroom on a daily basis (music, dancing, American Sign Language). The challenge that comes with identifying the ‘trigger’ that will jump start a student’s learning is exciting to me! So many of my teachers inspired me and it made me want to be just like them!” (Kindergarten teacher at Hawthorne Elementary School in Sioux Falls, SD)

Bio | Photos | Video
Nardi Routten (FL ’14)

Nardi Routten makes a point to Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Jane Foley.

After working in the insurance industry for several years, Nardi decided to follow a lifelong dream of becoming a teacher.

“I remember I always wanted to become a teacher. However, in college I decided to pursue a degree in finance. Since I was a teenager, I worked with children at my church—a passion that has continued into adulthood. Seeing the spark and the desire to learn in the eyes of children led me finally to pursue my love of teaching. Being a catalyst for change in a child’s life helped influence by decision to become a teacher.” (Fourth-grade teacher at Frances K. Sweet Elementary School in Fort Pierce, FL)

Bio | Photos | Video | Related Story: What Do Your Students See?
Kelly Wilber (IN ’14)

Kelly Wilber helps students with a lesson.

Through her brother’s struggles and determination to overcome his mental handicap, Kelly became motivated to dedicate her career to helping students learn.

“My first inspiration was my brother, David. David was born with Down syndrome. We are seven years apart, but when we were children we learned together. I realized at an early age that everyone has the ability to learn, but the process may look different. My brother taught me the importance of hard work and perseverance. I wanted to become a teacher in order to work with kids like David who face learning challenges.

"As an elementary student, I was inspired by my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Mary Kegebein. She had a magical way of making learning meaningful and fun. She made every student in her class believe they could accomplish any dream if they worked hard enough. I hope that I help my students create memories that will inspire them to become future educators.” (TAP Mentor Teacher at Southport Elementary School in Indianapolis, IN)

Bio | Photos | Video

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