The Doug Robinson ~
Scott Berryessa Project
Scott Berryessa in 1966.
Scott Berryessa at BY High in 1966.

After graduation from BY High in the Class of 1967, Scott Berryessa served a mission in Thailand and was instrumental in helping to translate the Book of Mormon into the Thai language. He graduated from BYU with Bachelors and Masters degrees [BYU MED Counseling & Guidance 1974] and served as President of the Samuel Hall Society.

He is currently serving in his second term as the President of the Jordan Education Association. He recently won statewide and national accolades for his instrumental role in a public relations campaign highlighting teachers entitled "Why I Teach." He is also the President of the Children At Risk Foundation.

Scott is married to Christine Williams, who is the former director of worldwide technical services for Novell, where she currently is a corporate sales executive. They have three sons in college. Scott and his family love to travel and have become avid scuba divers. One of Scott's passions has been coaching youth baseball, and his teams have been successful. @2004

Why I Teach

Written By Doug Robinson
Deseret News senior writer

Schoolteachers are suckers for kids. They can list a dozen things they hate about the teaching profession, but there is usually one thing that keeps them going: a kid.

They'll recall how they taught a struggling child to do long division or some former student returns to thank them and suddenly all the frustrations of the job the Legislature, the pay, the dearth of school supplies, the clueless parents, the long hours, the endless paperwork don't seem so bad anymore.

At the end of the school day, the thing that sustains most of them are the kids.

All they hope for in return is support and understanding for what they do from parents, legislators and citizens.

How do I know this? I asked them. And this is what they said.

Last winter I got a call at the end of school from a mother who said her son was on his way over to see me. A few minutes later Nate and his wife popped in my door. I had Nate in physics almost 10 years ago, and he was back in town and wanted to see me. He proudly handed me his thesis for his master's degree from Penn State. On the title page he had written "Thanks for your inspiration and example. I owe you much. Nathan" Later, while reading his thesis, I found this on the "Acknowledgements" page: " . . . I also wish to express my thanks to Ron Yahne for setting me on the path of discovery." While I only understood a few pages of his thesis titled "Design and application of a fluid control and measurement system for a large thermoacoustic refrigeration device," to know that I "set him on the path of discovery" touched me deeply. Ron Yahne, Clearfield High

Allow me to explain. Teachers are hard up for friends and people who understand the overwhelming challenges of their jobs. They must be. They think I'm their best friend, and all I did was write one sympathetic 700-word column that made its way around the state. The column elicited a deluge of e-mail from teachers simply thanking me for expressing their viewpoint while also taking time to elaborate on many of their frustrations.

Which tells me they feel neglected and misunderstood.

After reading the e-mails, I gave the teachers a dose of their own medicine. I gave them homework. I asked them to tell me why they still teach, considering the increasing demands of the job. I have been bombarded with e-mails ever since.

I have a card on my desk that says "It's about the kids, stupid." I've had it since my second year of teaching, when a wise administrator told me, "This profession will eat you up if you don't have a reason to come in other than the pay check." I believe that everything that's wrong with education comes from the adult world. Bad manners, mandates, lawsuits and accountability models that measure business potentials, not the hearts and mind of growing children, all have their origins in what adults think. I walk in the door and do the job every day because of the kids. I am a teacher because Tyler wrote his first novel under my tutelage; Robert became the first in his family ever to go to college; and Jose, Marcus and Jessica all read well enough now to read stories to their own children. Would those things have happened without me? I don't know, but it's not a gamble I'm willing to take with your child. Eva Belliston, Crescent View Middle School

As another school year ends, teachers have the same frustrations, plus some new ones. They will all tell you that teaching is a much more difficult job than it was when they began. They clogged my e-mail with their frustrations. Some of the highlights:

The extra responsibilities that government keeps piling on them while never relieving them of any existing duties.

Government-mandated testing of students (and uniform test-score requirements), which consumes time that could be spent teaching and doesn't take into account kids with learning problems.

Budget and staff cuts that force teachers to perform jobs previously done by specialists, meaning they have to teach library, computer and second-language skills, as well as some resource kids.

Budgets that are so tight that teachers who are not handsomely paid to begin with are spending their own money on supplies.

The extra jobs many teachers are forced to take because of their meager salaries.

The extra duty that is required committees, bus and playground duty, in-service...

The increased responsibilities that force them to do work at home while neglecting their own families.
The angry parents who think their child could do no wrong and it must be the teacher's fault.

Failing to give teachers a pay raise while also raising their medical premiums so that the net effect is they actually take a pay cut.

The parents who send their sick kids to school because they work and can't be home to baby-sit.

The demise of the home and family and the resulting poor behavior and morals among the students.

And yet teachers keep coming back for more.

Two years ago I was ready to apply for a job at the local 7-Eleven because of an extremely hard year. I had 28 students in my second-grade class, and eight of them were behavior problems. Kolton was new to our school that year and was living with his father after being left on the doorstep by his mother because she couldn't handle him anymore. Dad was homeless at the time and moved in with his brother to take care of this little boy. Kolton had been in foster care and had lived with (various relatives), but nobody could handle him. This child was filled with anger. He was suspended twice for hurting others. My own son was in my class this year and Kolton would ask me all the time, "Does he ever get in trouble at home? Does he ever do bad things?" He wanted so bad to be a child like my son who had some stability in his life.

One day Kolton got in trouble at recess and the decision was made to send him home. His father showed up and the screaming began "I don't want to go home; they'll put me in a foster home! Please don't let them send me to a foster home!" He left with his father, and I went home that night with a very heavy heart. I wanted to help this child out so badly, yet he took so much energy from me every day. Eventually, Kolton's uncle came in and told me that Kolton and his dad had moved. He handed me a note from Kolton. The note had four simple words, "Teacher, I love you, Kolton." That day I cried. Simple notes, simple sweet hugs. This is why I teach. Sharon Cafferty, Washington Elementary

For almost every e-mail I received regarding my original column, I repeated my request: Why do you still teach? From there things began to snowball. The letters were circulated in teaching circles.

Acting on his own, Scott Berryessa, president of the Jordan Education Association, sent copies of my request to nearly thousands of teachers, asking them to respond. He had no idea how eagerly many of them would accept the assignment. One teacher immediately typed a reply during recess.

Berryessa read each e-mail as it arrived at his office and then forwarded it to me. He was receiving so many that at one point he asked me if I wanted him to stop forwarding the e-mail.

"Doug," he wrote, "This is unreal. I finish reading one, get choked up, send it to you and another one has arrived."

The first year I taught at Bingham High, I had a dad call and ask me if I would accept his son in my 12th-grade college prep English class. The boy had been in an automobile accident at about age 12, suffering serious brain damage. Though the boy had been assigned to resource classes ever since, the dad believed that his son was capable of more rigorous work. I said we could give it a try.

The boy's major difficulty with English was that something in his brain no longer connected his thinking with his spelling. He just guessed at how a word should look, and most of the time, even a modern spell-check program couldn't have anticipated his intent. His essays sometimes took me four or five times longer to decipher, compared to those of his classmates. He had no idea how to reproduce the words he read on the written page. His arguments and analyses were perceptive and accurate, if I could figure out the phonetic spelling and alphabet guesswork. In class discussion, literature and group projects, he shined. So I mothballed my red pencil and gave him credit for his dedicated work and fine mind. Not having been in a regular classroom since elementary school, his reward came when he earned an "A" in my class. My reward came four years later when I received his graduation announcement from the University of Utah.

Every year there are students in my classes who conquer their self-defeating habits, their personal obstacles and their enormous teenage insecurities the cheerleader who, when confronted with cheating on a test in the fall, swore that she would never cheat again in my class and then reported with pride at the end of the year that she had kept her word; the diabetic young man whose determination was so respected by his peers that several of them named him in their essays about personal "heroes" (he died less than two years later); the reporter on my school newspaper staff who battled drug addiction and depression through her sophomore and junior years, and then beat back the dragons to earn a journalism scholarship to a small junior college; the student teacher who had been a quiet member of my junior honors class several years earlier and just last month whispered to me that I was the reason she had become an English teacher.

When I go home from work every day, I know that what I do matters to society. And I am enriched by the countless students who daily share with me their courage, enthusiasm, talent, off-the-wall humor and sheer joy for learning. There isn't a better job, anywhere. Janice Voorhies, Bingham High

As the e-mails continued to pour in over the course of a couple of weeks, I talked to Berryessa on the phone. "The thing I found so interesting is that not one e-mail was negative," he said. "They didn't carp about the problems of the job. They were all positive about why they teach. The response has been amazing. I didn't think we'd get that many, especially because this is a busy time of year. All the letters are really from the heart."

When you consider the pay and the many drawbacks of the job, that's what teaching is: a matter of the heart.

From a practical point of view, you'd have a difficult time choosing the teaching profession (see above list). Not only is the job demanding in terms of stress and time, but many teachers have to supplement their incomes by teaching driver's ed or by coaching or by working nights at 7-Eleven or by taking a summer job.

A lot of people ask me the same question: "Why are you still a teacher?" In reply, I tell them the following story. One of my students was a girl we'll call "Angel" because that's what she is. She was a good student who paid attention, worked hard and was respectful to everyone. However, she was much too hard on herself, having such anxiety over assignments and concepts that she would cry out of frustration if she didn't pass or understand something the first time. Concepts did not come easily to her, and she became upset more and more. I worked with her on accepting her mistakes and learning from them, not giving up when something is hard to understand and being patient. We began to see a marked improvement in Angel's understanding and self-esteem. She cried less and less.

When Valentine's Day arrived, Angel wanted to buy a present for me to show how much she appreciated the work I'd done with her. She insisted on buying an entire bouquet of roses. Her mother explained that was simply too expensive.

After much debate, Angel's mother finally turned to her and said, "I just don't think you understand how much money that is!" Angel firmly replied, "Mom, I don't think you understand how much I love my teacher!"

As a compromise, I received a lovely vase full of hand-made paper flowers that I have kept on my desk ever since. At the time, I was experiencing so much stress I could hardly see straight, wondering why I was doing this when I could be doing something less consuming that paid just as much. The knowledge that I meant so much to one of my students, that I'd helped her become a more successful and confident student, meant more to me than five dozen roses. It reminded me of why I am a teacher. It reminded me that I DO have a positive influence on children, that my time IS well spent. So, as I bring home 100 papers (literally) to grade tonight, I will think about Angel, how much she has grown, how much I love her and just how much she loves me. Elizabeth Bachelor, Lakeside Elementary

Back at the JEA offices, Berryessa continued to monitor E-mail Central. "This morning has been incredible as I have sat and read each one," he wrote to me. "I can't get anything else done, nor do I want to today."

Berryessa decided to compile the responses and give them to the teachers who wrote them, but there were so many that he decided he would compile them in his own pamphlet. Finally, he decided to take the e-mails to Utah Education Association President Pat Rusk, who in turn forwarded them to district presidents, who forwarded them to teachers.

The upshot of all this is that the UEA has decided to turn it into a yearlong campaign Why I Teach. The association is going to budget for it for the next school year. It will consist of radio announcements, print ads, posters and a book. The responses from teachers will be turned into posters that will be placed in their schools, allowing parents and students to see why teachers teach. Eventually, they plan to turn the responses into a book.

I teach French at Davis High. I received the following letter from a former student, written completely in French. "My name is Janet and I am one of your former students. You probably don't remember me, but I could never forget you. You inspired me to want to continue my studies in French and now I am just about to receive my master's degree in French from the University of Texas, where I also teach beginning French. I am just writing to say hello, but mostly to explain that it is thanks to you that I am where I am today. I want to be a French teacher exactly like you.

I would love to sit down with you and discuss your teaching methods, preferences, ideas and opinions because in all my learning experiences there has never been anyone like you. I would love to imitate you in my own classes."

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away. This is one of those breath-taking moments that have kept me in my classroom for the past 32 years. Dave Miller, Davis High

The UEA plans to restart the original project, sending out another e-mail that asks teachers to answer the same question Why do you teach? Berryessa wants to create a partnership with the state's superintendents to do the project on a broader scale. "If they're willing, then we could get school boards to ask principals and faculties to participate in this project," says Berryessa. "We want every school building in the state to have these posters."

Why such enthusiasm for the project?

"It will boost the morale of our teachers and make people more cognizant of the caring teachers we have out there," Berryessa explains. "A lot of teachers told me that it felt good to stop and focus on why they did this (teaching) in the first place why they became a teacher. It helped them to remember."

One night I walked into the local store, and a student who had given me the greatest challenge of my career came up to me and said, "I don't know if you remember me or not (and I did the moment he said his name and fear crept over me wondering what he had in mind for me). I just want you to know that I have changed and I am sorry for how I acted in your class and treated you. I hope you will forgive me." Those are the moments that keep me teaching. I literally cannot afford to keep going as a teacher. With five kids and a huge mortgage payment and bankruptcy to boot, I can't keep going. But I do it anyway, just for the sheer fact that I love what I do, and I feel I make a difference in a young person's life. Bill Beck, Joel P. Jensen Middle School

Special Thanks to the Deseret News
Sunday, June 8, 2003

Scott Berryessa
Scott Berryessa