Why I teach...

National Teacher Day is May 8

On May 8, National Teacher Day celebrates the teachers that devote their days to educating, supporting and nurturing students. The Sentinel asked South Lane teachers why they've taken on such a task and what motivates them to continue teaching.

I became a teacher because I started noticing a pattern in all my college jobs. No matter what I did, x-ray orderly, receptionist at a doctor's office, pharmacy assistant... I was drawn to the children. When a child would come into my place of work, I would go out of my way to make them feel more comfortable, not be afraid, or entertain them while their parents were busy.  I guess I should have known even earlier, as I always played "library" or "school" with my childhood friends. I love being a kindergarten teacher because 5 and 6 year olds love to dance and sing and be silly, and they are also very eager to learn new things and are not afraid to try and make mistakes.  Children bring me great joy!

Amy Swearengin

Harrison Kindergartenteacher

I became a teacher because: There were several teachers in my extended family. It seemed to be a part of who my family was. The teachers in my family were loving, caring people who gave a lot of themselves to others.  They were highly involved in our community activities, church, social gatherings, organized events etc.  It was a small town and everybody knew each other.

Having grown up in that environment and lifestyle, I suppose I naturally gravitated toward the teaching profession.  After a dozen years of chasing life experiences it was time to pursue a teaching career. I thought I wanted to be a college professor and that was my goal starting out.  But while in college I realized that standing at a podium and lecturing to an auditorium of 100 or more students was not what the teaching experience was going to be for me.

I thought about some of my favorite teachers from high school, what impact they had made in my life and the fact that they will always be part of the best memories of my teenage years.  I wanted to be a teacher like the ones I remember.  

Kent Russo


I, never in a million years thought I would be a teacher but it happened to me!

Several reasons, each played out in my life to change the course of who and what I am for my students.

When I was 15, I moved to Oregon to live with my father.  I was a very frustrated with life and what it had to offer me; I started experimenting with partying, skipping school and as a result my credits and grades plummeted.  Soon after, my  father lost his housing and we moved in with my grandmother, but with overcrowding I decided to leave. Then, I found out I was pregnant.  There I was pregnant and homeless.  I knew things had to change I my life.  Being a homeless, pregnant teenager changed my life more than I could ever imagine.

 I went from skipping and failing, to straight As with extra night school and Saturday school almost never missing a day to be able to graduate on time. With a few Al Kennedy field trips thrown in, I graduated on time from CGHS in 1997.

What resonates for me most is the people that surrounded me in our community; the programs we once had  were amazing and the programs that still exist in our community, helped shape my decision to be an educator.

I actually wanted to be a lactation consultant. I was gung-ho on being one. I knew I had to be a nurse so I enrolled at Lane Community College with financial aid and a few local scholarships from a community that believed in me.

I needed to earn extra money and found a work study job at Bohemia Elementary reading with kids. I could walk to it during the day if I put my kid in the high school nursery.  My baby daddy-- high school sweet heart---husband  (21 years) watched our son during the night after he got off work so I could do night classes.

Working at Bohemia would change my life.  I was assigned to do reading with a group of kids in Linda Randall’s classroom.  I worked there for several months and enjoyed it immensely but still planned on being a lactation consultant. Then, the teacher Linda Randall tragically died mid year.  I couldn't leave those students, they were lost.  I stayed for the whole year.  Those kids needed me, and I think I needed them.  I still am in contact with a few of those students in that class. 

By the end of the year, I was destined to be a teacher.

I decided to switch my major at Lane, then transferred to Pacific University Eugene Campus. Mentor teachers like Jan Settlemyer and Donna Perkey worked with me to help me understand how the education system worked and how to be a good teacher.

When I graduated from Pacific University with a bachelors in education in 2002 I became a sub at the district the next year, subbing in elementary, middle, and high school classes.  In the spring of 2003, Gay Kennedy called me. She needed to retire due to a family emergency and she wanted me to take her place.  I laughed.

 I wasn't a home ec teacher. I wasn't into high schoolers but I would do it to because she did so much for me.  She told me she believed in me and I was who she wanted to take her job and help teen parents. In doing so, I had to get a masters degree.  So I enrolled in a masters degree program.

I was able to start the job in 2004.  My first day of class, I was 24-years-old.  Scared to death.  I started the day at the alternative school.  There were kids walking around on campus and I was only a few years older than them and I was to be their teacher.

To this day I remember the first student who walked in my classroom.  She looked straight at me all pregnant and determined. “Oh good it’s you! I thought I was going to have some old lady telling me what to do." It was one of my students from Linda Randall's class.  I knew I was in the right place.  In the right job.

Although I still had lots to learn, and still learn daily from my students and coworkers, I know helping students the same way I was,  is my way of giving back for everyone who helped me.  I love working at Kennedy High School and Cottage Grove High School. I also work with with Parent Partnership and handle the MCKinney Vento- homeless program for the school district.

10  long years later, I received my masters degree from Central Washington University with a degree in family and consumer sciences and CTE administration.

I love my job, I love my community, I love my students.  I am an educator.

Brandi Baker-Rudicel

Al Kennedy High School

Health and Odysseyware

When I graduated from college, I wanted a career in business.  I wanted to make lots of money and drive a BMW.  I got a job selling and writing radio advertising for a big radio station in Portland. After eight months of “dress for success” and meetings with clients I became discouraged. I realized that even in my most successful month of sales, all I was really doing was moving money around.  I wanted my time and my life to be spent doing something that mattered more than moving money. So, I went back to college for another 18 months and became certified to be an elementary teacher.

I have taught 1st, 2nd or 3rd grade for 34 years, 32 of them right here in Cottage Grove.  Sometimes I am tired or discouraged. It is an overwhelming job, because you want to help every single child make lots of progress. Classes can be huge and behaviors can be difficult. Sometimes sadness from kid’s lives make them uninterested in learning. But every single day I know my time was well spent on the children and families of our town. I am now teaching the children of former students! I have loved spending my days with children. I will always be glad I became a teacher.

Debbie Taie

Bohemia Elementary School

I became a teacher because the most influential and supportive people in my life were teachers, either in a school or by nature. When it came time to choose what I wanted to pursue as a career, I needed to know that my life and my labors would help other people and contribute to the community I live in instead of seeking to profit. I wanted a life focused on giving rather than taking; in teaching, I have that chance every day.

Daniel Henson

Kennedy High School

Language arts and 

social studies instructor

 Why did I start teaching? Several reasons I guess. It’s in my blood, I come from a long line of teachers. My grandmother, great aunt, both parents and an older brother were all teachers. They say you do what you see. But throughout my years as a student I also had many wonderful teachers who influenced my choice to become a teacher.

My first grade teacher was a wonderfully kind woman who built my self-confidence and pride. My high school yearbook/ English teacher made me believe anything career was possible. He was a man who loved all students and gave them the gift of wanting to learn for a lifetime. He was a soft spoken man who gave respect so he got respect.

I think my most influential teachers were my coaches. I loved sports, still do, wanting to coach was my big draw to teaching. I wanted to continue to be involved in sports after finishing college.

I think the most important question to ask is, “Why did I continued to teach for 33 years?” It is the energy of the young people.

Many times you hear people say, “Our future is in trouble.”

I respectfully disagree. The young people I have met over the last 30 plus years have been incredible. They aren’t all going to be our future leaders, but some will. Many will be the behind the scenes “work horses” that keep the day to day operations working smoothly. Some of the other reasons I teach:

• I love the “light bulb” moments when it comes together for a student;

• I love how they help each other be successful.

• I love how they lift each other up when they are sad.

• I love having a sense of belonging to this big beautiful messy family we call school.

But most of all, I love finding out what they have done with their lives after they have moved on in life: leaders, problem solvers, caregivers, etc. But my favorite thing is when they come back and let you know what an influence you had on them and thank you for being a part of their lives.

—Sandra Wilkinson

Cottage Grove High School

30 years + 3 years at Burns Union High School 


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