Heather Sammons, Director of Alumni Engagement interviewed Taylor Griffin ’07, who had his first year of teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic. If he can survive a year of teaching during a global pandemic, he can handle anything!
After graduating from Marin Academy in 2007 what came next for you?
After graduation, I attended the University of Puget Sound up in Tacoma, Washington where I got my B.A. in Theatre Arts. Then following my graduation from UPS, I worked various jobs, including working as a teaching artist at the Seattle Children’s Theatre, an assistant director of a wilderness and backpacking summer camp, and a tour guide at a chocolate factory (please keep all Oompa Loompa jokes to yourself. Yes, I’ve heard them all a million times).
A few years ago you made the decision to go back to school to get your Masters in Education. What made you want to become a teacher? Was your sister, Jhani Amabile ’04, who we featured last month, or any of your MA teachers at all your inspirations?
Many people have a career path and chase it, but in a way I feel like my path came to me. In 2018 as the panic set in on the impending doom of my 30th birthday, I decided I wanted to find a more clear direction in life. Looking back at all my work experience, and thinking about which jobs I found the most fulfilling, I noticed a common theme of working with kids. This lead to my decision to go back to school and pursue a job as an educator.
Of course, the long hours, constant need for changing plans on the fly, and developing a strong need for validation from teenagers wasn’t enough to convince me to take the leap into education, but thinking about the amazing ways in which my own teachers at MA, such as Bill Meyer and Annie Elias, impacted my life was the confirmation I needed that being a teacher was what I wanted to do with my life. And I definitely have to give credit to my sister Jhani, who is also a teacher, for inspiring me to prove that she’s not the better sibling, and anything she can do I can do better. (Mom, if you are reading this, that was a joke. I love my sister; she’s amazing. You raised us right. Please don’t take me out of your will.)
Your first year of teaching happened to be the wildest year in education, with the COVID-19 global pandemic affecting the normal teaching practices that you prepared for. What was this year like for you?
This year was absolutely wild. Being a first year teacher is hard. Being a first year teacher adjusting to a remote learning environment is even harder. Being a first year teacher adjusting to a remote learning environment who was hired on a Friday two weeks into the school year who only had a single weekend to prepare to start teaching on Monday? Next level. Despite all the chaos, the fact that I made it through this year, and still feel confident this is what I want to do with my life is very assuring.
What do you love about teaching, and what are your favorite subjects to teach?
I love building relationships with students. Learning information and building skills is important, but those moments of connecting with students on a human level and hopefully being a resource for them, not just academically, but to help them with growing up and entering adulthood is very rewarding.
As a high school English teacher, I love the versatility of the subject. English can be used to center important conversations about social justice, learn about virtually any topic, or simply as an avenue to express one’s feelings. Every student learns differently, and English allows the flexibility to build both research/analytical type skills as well as more creative/expressive ones.
What are your hopes for education in the future, especially this next year when we hopefully return to a more normal school year?
I really hope educators came away from this year with a true appreciation and understanding of what is important in school. Without the energy or resources allowed in a typical year, teaching remotely really forced teachers to think about what are the bare essentials needed to engage students, and what are the core values they want to instill in their classroom community. For me, I came away with a focus on building a classroom that values connecting with others as well as variation in instruction to support various types of learners.
Is there anything else you would like to share with the MA community?
Just a simple reminder that it’s never too late to make changes in your life or follow your passions! It took me almost 10 years after my college graduation to decide what I truly wanted to do. I was successful in getting my master’s degree and becoming a teacher, but I just had to take that first step to decide to do it.
Thank you, Taylor, for sharing your story with us. Your humor and passion are such valuable traits that I am sure makes you one of the best teachers out there. Thank you for teaching and inspiring students each and every day.
What are you up to? If you’re a MA alum and would like to be interviewed, please reach out to Heather Sammons at firstname.lastname@example.org.