A Look into the Lives of Teachers Before They Became Educators


Grace Snarr, Copy Editor

It can be easy for students to get caught up in the daily routine, following the bells from that morning’s alarm clock, to class, lunch, more classes and finally to return home, leaving a mess of paper and electronic footprints behind them as sole evidence of their presence before they arrive back at school the next day to do it all over again. But, if you take the time to pause and look up from the dutifully filled out assignment, or the bright reflection of an electronic screen and take a moment to wonder about the person who is teaching at the front of the room, you might realize that there may be much to learn about who they actually are as an individual. What life do they lead, and what history have they written through their own human experience?

Many have even had complete careers prior to becoming a teacher.

History teacher Daniel Ashley, for example, managed three different restaurants before spending almost a decade working for the innovator of the time, America Online (AOL), one of the first internet and email companies.

“I was a restaurant manager for five years, three different restaurant companies, including a really good, upscale Mexican restaurant, early in the days of Mexican restaurants,” Ashley said.

Afterwards, he went to graduate school; not quite finishing his degree, he left and worked a few temporary jobs before working for AOL for almost 10 years before returning to school to finish his degree and become a teacher. At AOL, he filled multiple capacities, most memorably tech support.

“The best thing I ever did while I was on the phones was [that] I helped a guy who was 80 and his daughter was online and he wanted to email her. I stayed on the phone with him for 40 minutes until we got his connection working,” Ashley said. “I also helped a doctor who wanted to send a large file which turned out to be an x-ray. He was in some place in Oklahoma [about] 250 miles from the hospital and we worked it out. I know they do that all the time [now], but it was 1995, and nobody had done that before.”

Math teacher Joan Black also had a steady career prior to teaching high school students, which she eventually retired from before realizing her original dream of life in the classroom.

“I [was] in the Army for 20 years, and while I was in the Army, I was asked if I wanted to teach at West Point at the Military Academy,” Black said. “At that time they were looking for women who had had some experience in the Army and there weren’t a lot. [Choosing to go into the Army] was a totally oh-by-the-way thought, because I had been totally planning to teach.”

Although this was an about-face from her original plan, the change proved to be beneficial.

“My college roommate’s dad had been in the Army for a career, so she told me about this program where you could sign up to be in the Army- it was before ROTC- [and] you got paid during your senior year in college,” Black said. “I thought it would be a chance to see other places in the world and it also would be a chance to get to pay for college, so I said [I’d do it] for two years, see what it was like, and somehow two years turned into 20.”

While some teachers selected one main path to follow in life, history teacher Angie Rollet pursued a variety of opportunities.

“Right out of college, I knew I was going into [the] Peace Corps, but it was about a year before I was being placed, so I had the opportunity to do landscaping in Hawaii. I worked for a nursery where we did indoor and outdoor, and one of our clients was [entertainer] Jim Nabors,” Rollet said. “Then I did go into the Peace Corps, and spent three and a half years in Lesotho.”

Upon her return to the United States, Rollet took advantage of yet another unique opportunity.

“For a while I needed a job, so I was waiting tables,” Rollet said. “While I was there, the managers said to me, ‘Hey, we’re opening up a bakery, would you like to come be our manager?’ So it was cool, to get to open up a bakery with someone else’s money. It was about a year and a half that I ran Best Buns Bread Company in Shirlington, and then once I did that, I delayed for a year my application process, then went into grad school and here I am.”

You only need ask to discover what unexpected stories may exist, such as when Ashley helped with a proposal while working as a manager at the Mexican restaurant, Casa Lupita. A frequent customer asked for his help since he was too nervous to ask his girlfriend himself. Luckily, the proposal was a success.

“I placed [the ring box] in a dessert dish and put four squirts of whipped cream, one on each side,” Ashley said. “Then I walked over to the table. I remember the woman looked at me with an odd expression, no doubt because she had not ordered dessert. Then I said ‘Judy, Fred would very much like your hand in marriage.’ I gave her the box and I walked away.”

Unknown to students, prior workplace and life experience may have even played a large role in how a teacher selected his or her subject area, or how the classroom is run.

“History is about making a story, and being able to understand connections, and so I feel very privileged to have gotten to live in a number of places just to have different experiences,” Rollet said. “It reminds me all the time that my experience is just one perspective, and every single person comes in with a different perspective, so that adds to the teaching of this particular subject. It has helped me in a history classroom to make a better story out of things, but it’s also impacted what I chose to teach. I could have just as easily gone into English, but for me those experiences, particularly in other countries, led me to world history instead.”