English Department graduate, Grace Otieno (2013 graduate) has been teaching English at Everman High School. We caught up with her to ask a few questions about her life.
1. What have you been up to since leaving PUC?
When I graduated, I had no idea what I wanted to pursue as a career (to be honest, I still don’t). I took on a secretarial position at St. Helena Hospital immediately after graduating to buy some time and figure things out. All the while, being a teacher was a backup plan. After seeking out alternative certification programs in my home state of Texas, I ended up returning to begin my career in education.
2. How was your PUC experience beneficial to your professional career?
PUC was a true learning experience for me. Of course, there’s the school part, but personally, I believe that PUC is the place where I needed to be in order to grow in every aspect of my being; I learned so much about myself. This institution provided me with the opportunity to encounter a vast number of unique individuals and experiences.
Furthermore, the English department, being as small as it is, was like a cool little family. I still remember some very specific conversations over literature sitting around a table with five other people. I remember how my perspective on literature changed after Gill’s Literary Theory class. I remember Rankin-Brown making sarcastic comments in her Great Books class that many of the non-English majors totally missed. I remember Sara Kakazu challenging me in her Creative Writing class to write a poem that doesn’t rhyme (lol). Most importantly, I remember all of my English professors being passionate about their work.
As someone who currently works in education, I can honestly say that far too many educators don’t challenge their students as they should. I am honored to be a product of this department because everyone is truly dedicated to their craft.
3. What projects are near and dear to your heart as a teacher?
As a high school teacher, my biggest concern is making sure that my students are prepared with the necessary skill to be a functional member of society. I deal with a lot of kids who are clueless of what the world has to offer. I want to provide these kids with exposure and opportunity that they weren’t necessarily granted from birth. I am currently working on building an organization to teach secondary students how to network professionally. The honest truth is that many adults don’t know how to network, or work in unfulfilling careers because they never sought a career that aligns with their natural God-given talents. I believe that communities can do their youth a great service by training and exposing them to genuine opportunities to network with their future in mind, and that is what my organization seeks to do.
4. What have you found rewarding and challenging with your career?
The most challenging part of my career is that I don’t see immediate growth. Sometimes, I feel like I am not making progress with my students. Sometimes, I wonder if anything I share with them is actually sinking in. Sometimes, I feel like giving up on them. But right when I start getting to those moments, I begin to see the stems sprouting from seeds that I had previously sewn. That is where I see the reward in what I do. On any given day, I spit out thousands of words at my students. Unfortunately, every student doesn’t soak up all of knowledge that I am trying to put in their brain. However, it is amazing when I realize what they do take away from my lessons, or my rants about life and their futures. Every once in a while, they come back and say, “After being forced to write so much in your class, now, essays are easy,” or “Thank you for sharing that personal story, it really helped give me some new perspective,” or “Thank you for figuring out ten ways to explain a concept until I understood it,” or “Thank you for making us memorize and annotate that poem; it showed up on the AP exam.” When my students circle back and show a slight bit of appreciation for my influence, it reassures me that what I do and say on a daily basis is not in vain and that I have the ability to impact people’s lives for the better.
5. What words of wisdom do you have for current PUC students?
I often wonder: How did I get here? Not only regarding my current stage in life, but all along the way. I went through so many major changes and I have had the most random collection of jobs amongst the people that I know. I can’t help but to question why. What was all of it for? The beauty is that as I trek through life, I slowly start to see how those experiences fall into place. Life will reveal several things as it unfolds, we just have to trust the process and know that with each seed that we sew, it is growing (underground) and we eventually see the visible product of that seed.