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Thriving Through Diversity: The Journey Of A Dedicated Educator

By Don Maker on Aug 8, 2014

Brandman University, formerly known as Chapman University College, is proud to have a thriving alumni network. As we venture into the back to school season, we highlight the hard work that many of our teachers and current students have done. This is the story of Don Maker, a businessman turned teacher turned storyteller, as he becomes an expert in diversity in his own words. 

Transitioning Into The Classroom

don-makerAt the age of fifty, I decided to retire from my position as a marketing executive to become a high school English teacher. I chose Chapman University College because it had such a good reputation for producing teachers, and because I could do most of the required coursework at night while still working during the day.

Most of my instructors were both highly knowledgeable and very encouraging. Some of them were my own age or even older, with extensive experience and great insights that would eventually help my classroom management skills. With a few of my instructors I was able to discuss some of the philosophical and psychological issues that I would face, which would no doubt enhance my future teaching abilities.

My Teaching Career

My first position after obtaining my preliminary credentials was at a very low performing school in the Oakland Unified School District in California. Frankly, that was a lot more challenging than I had anticipated. The next three years were spent at Pittsburg High. The environment was slightly more academically stimulating while being much less physically intimidating. Finally I moved to the Mount Diablo district, which was similar to my experience at the previous high school only a lot closer to home.

Working With Troubled Youth

I had come from a fairly similar socio-economic background, so the last two districts were not surprising scenarios for me. However I was personally unaware of some of the societal structures that existed including the family life that most students who inhabited the neighborhoods where some of the most challenging public schools in the state reside.

One of the lessons that Chapman had not - and probably could not - prepare me for was the balance that teachers must find between wanting to get to know their students in order to truly help them, and yet not getting so personally involved in their lives that it becomes emotionally straining. You can academically study some of the issues those children face such as learning disabilities, substance abuse syndromes, broken home backgrounds and gang activities but until you have to deal with them on a day-to-day basis, you cannot truly appreciate their meanings nor understand how to manage them.

Moving Forward And Sharing My Passion Through Storytelling

For better or for worse, I was laid off during the great purge of 2008 due to tenure requirements and my age made it difficult to attain another teaching position. However I still remained hopeful and wanted to in some way contribute to the field of education.

Based on what I had learned while attaining my master's degree in education and my personal experiences as a teacher, I started writing articles for Yahoo Voices, a contributor network that allows authors and media professionals to share their passion and knowledge with the world.

After reading all of the books my students read featuring the popular Happy Potter, vampires and zombies, I decided to take a different spin on using stories to educate students. I dedicated myself to writing a young adult novel that extolled the virtues of learning about science called Miranda's Magic. It features a heroine who does things that seem to be magical, but the more she learns about both physical and life sciences, the greater her powers become.

I have also finished another piece that synthesizes my experiences with our troubled youth. I have depicted one of the main characters to have severe learning disabilities as he is adopted by a mixed marriage family and lives in a low socio-economic environment. The story is called The Grindstone and I'm happy to say that the young man succeeds in the end.

As A Proud Alumni

Although I have moved on from teaching, I still offer private tutoring to students in need. I continue to use the knowledge, the skills and the passion for the profession and education that I gained from Chapman University College. I am very grateful for what I have learned and experienced in life. I am proud to say that I am a writer and an educational professional.

Topics: Alumni, School of Education