The American Graduate Champion in My Life

Posted by Morgan Lee on

Hello American Graduate Supporters!

When you have the opportunity to work with a program like American Graduate, that wants to makes the community a better place for the children and teenagers of the community, it’s a very rewarding experience. It makes getting up early every weekday of my summer break completely worth it. But having the opportunity to look at local school s and the people who are doing all that they can to make a difference in the lives of the students in their community, also makes me reflect on my past and my time in the public school system. Which for me is something I’ve never really put much thought into, until I joined the American Graduate team. I began to think about how lucky I was to be interning with ETV. I mean, I grew up watching Reading Rainbow, and Between the Lions, and my Dad always listened to NPR in his car… and still does. So ETV was always a huge part of my life, and when I got to college and decided I wanted to be in the journalism school, I always saw myself working for an organization like ETV. But how did I get so motivated to achieve my goals? How did I catch such a passionate interest in writing and English? And when I figured out the answer, I realized that I had been motivated by someone who I now see as an American Graduate Champion. So, I decided for my blog post I would take the time to share with you about John Schutte, my English teacher in my junior year of high school, and how he impacts the lives of students every day.

                Mr. Schutte was the first teacher that came to mind when I decided to write about a teacher that impacted my life, motivated me to be a better student, and honestly tried to make a personal connection with me as a student. I would say that, overall, before I took Mr. Schutte’s  Advanced Placement English 4 class my junior year of high school, I was an average student. I had the intelligence, and the support system at home (Hi Mom and Dad!) to be an above average student, I just wasn’t motivated. I had not found anything I really felt passionate about as a student. Social Studies was boring to me, I wanted to focus more on current events.  Science was okay, but to me it wasn’t interesting because It was just memorizing facts, and when it came to math…well let’s just say that I’m a journalism student for a reason.  English was the only subject I actually enjoyed. I didn’t view reading as homework. To me that was fun!  And writing was easy for me, I never really had to try to get a good grade on a paper, well that was until I wrote my first paper for Mr. Schutte. I remember spending maybe, at most, two hours on my first paper that I turned into Mr. Schutte. When he was handing them back, I was calm, cool and collected. This was something I didn’t have to try to be good at. So I wasn’t planning on putting in any effort if I didn’t have to. Still, to this day, I remember how it felt when I turned over that paper and found that he had given me a D. What? No. I don’t make D’s on papers. I remember hating him so much at first. This wasn’t fair! I mean, who hast to work for a good grade, right?

                With that first paper, and throughout the rest of the class, Mr. Schutte taught me how to hold myself to a higher standard. He taught me that if I wanted to excel at something, I had to put in the time. Mr. Schutte was always available to help his students after school with their work, and he encouraged students to stop by and get help with whatever they needed, but he never made it mandatory. He was there to help students become better, more driven students, but he taught me that the first step when it came to being excellent at something was to put in the time necessary to create something you are proud of. That life lesson has stuck with me ever since then. And when I worked on papers over and over again in his class, I realized that I could be a great writer if I wanted to be, and I could make a career out of this, but I had to be willing to put in the time. And so far, I can honestly say that I think Mr. Schutte taught me the most important lesson as a future professional. When it comes to my writing, my graphic design, and my photography, I get the most satisfaction and pride in my work if I put in the time necessary to make my work great.

                So I decided to reach out to Mr. Schutte, and let him know about how his class made an important impact on my life, and played a huge role in making me who I am as a journalist and a person today. I got the really great opportunity to conduct an interview with my high school teacher, and ask him a few questions about his career and his personal teaching methods, and I am even more impressed and inspired by him as a teacher after doing so.

                Mr. Schutte has been teaching for the past 15 years now, and of those years, the past 11 years he has called Lexington County his home. He has always been a teacher of English, but at a majority of different levels. He has taught English 1, 2, and 4 at the honors, Advanced Placement, and seminar level. This was very intriguing to me. It must be difficult to teach such a wide variety of students. Mr. Schutte accepts this challenge with an open mind and believes that “the challenge is what [he] appreciates and looks forward to”. To him the challenge is worth it in the end, he goes on to say that “it is rewarding to know that when I go home in the afternoon, I have sincerely made a difference in someone’s life”.

                I went on to ask Mr. Schutte what he thought really keeps students motivated and involved in their own education. Even in my own time as a student in his class, you could tell Mr. Schutte tried to make an honest effort to know about his students and what was going on in their lives. His response echoed that idea perfectly. “I try to make learning more meaningful by relating what I teach to [my] student’s experiences”. He goes on to talk about the importance of making a connection with students by saying “students need to be heard” and “teachers need to develop an environment of trust and one where students feel safe…If my student has a personal issue, I will always actively listen and see if there is something I can help them with”. He also believes that teachers not only need to be involved in the life of their students but also that “there needs to be mutual respect between teacher and student” in order for their classroom to be an environment for the most effective learning.

                So with all of these amazing concepts and practices behind his teaching, no wonder he is constantly empowering students to achieve more in life, and push themselves further in their educational careers. I always like to end my interviews with educators with the same question, “what has been the most rewarding experience for you as a teacher?” I think their responses speak a lot to both who they are as a person and as a teacher. Mr. Schutte’s response did just that.  His response was simple, and to the point, but none the less powerful: “The rewarding experiences continue regularly. I cannot pinpoint the most rewarding; however, I have had many students come back years later to tell me that they sincerely appreciate what I taught them and that they have become successful because of it.”

                Mr. Schutte is one of those rare figures that we see in education today that dedicate every ounce of their time, emotions, and resources, to making the future of their students really wonderful. They have a personal investment in the future of our country through these kids, and he doesn’t see it as a burden, instead as a wonderful opportunity. Mr. Schutte ended his interview with me with an extremely powerful statement, and I think it is the perfect way to end this blog post as well. I just want to say a quick thank you to Mr. Schutte, and to teachers all over the country who make it their passion to help kids achieve what they know they can. Thank you for motivating me Mr. Schutte, I don’t think I would be here without you!

“I believe that [I am] blessed to have an opportunity to shape and change lives. There are very few jobs out there which can provide this gift” – John Schutte

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