College is a formative time in the lives of many. It is during your time at college that you begin to navigate your newfound adulthood while simultaneously trying to figure out who you are and the path you want to take. This comes easier for some, but takes some time for others, as we are all on different journeys. This is Ethan Owen’s story on how he discovered his calling to education while being a full time student athlete.
Ethan graduated from SEU with a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education in 2019, and graduated with a Master of Education in Literacy Education in 2022. But, going into education was not his initial plan; he started at SEU as a kinesiology major. So what led him to pursue a career in education? Ethan has a lot of teachers in his family, including his mother who spent much of her career as an English teacher.
“My mother always kind of spoke it over me,” Ethan said. “She never pressured or pushed me into a career, but she noticed that I had a knack for socializing with kids. I had a lot of compassion, empathy, and love for kids even as a teenager and a young man.”
He shared this story of this running joke he has with his father.
“My dad watched my mom grade papers 95 percent of the time, and saw the frustrations she would experience, but also her love for her career. He told me, ‘When you grow up, you can do anything you want to do, just don’t be a teacher,’” he laughed. “My dad said that kind of tongue-in-cheek, but it’s funny, because now I am an educator.”
Ethan started to teach swimming lessons at the community pool, and it was there that he got to experience what it was like to teach and interact with children in an educational setting. After seeing how well he interacted with and taught their kids, he had a lot of parents requesting that their children be in his swim class, and he even had parents who were educators ask him if he had ever considered becoming a teacher.
“At the time, I was really wrestling with what I wanted to do and the degree I had originally started with, and so I sat down and told God, ‘I want to serve You and do what You created me to do, and if that’s teaching, please make it obvious.’”
Shortly after that, he ended up shadowing a friend of his who was a teacher. After spending one day in her classroom, he went back to his dorm and changed his major to elementary education.
“I just knew that’s what I was supposed to do, and here I am now. I also had an SEU faculty member in the music department affirm my switch to education and speak a word over me. It was incredible to have a faculty member confirm what God was doing in my life.”
During all of these academic changes, Ethan was also juggling being a full-time athlete for the Fire Wrestling team. “There are some sacrifices that you have to make to balance both. You have to go into it knowing that more discipline is required of you than what is required of a non-athlete.” Being able to balance it all definitely came from having his priorities set in front of him. He recounts missing out on some events and holidays, and having to be really disciplined with maintaining proper nutrition. However, the ability to balance both athletics and academics came from his genuine passion for each.
“I loved being an athlete, loved competing, and had a lot of passion and drive for my sport. Once I got into the degree program that I wanted to be in, my love of learning skyrocketed,” he explained. “The content I was learning, going into the schools, and working with the kids — those things motivated me to get my assignments done. Plus, I genuinely enjoyed doing a lot of my assignments because they were so relevant and interesting.”
“Doing something that you truly care about makes it easier to manage it all.”
What He’s Learned as a Teacher
Ethan currently teaches kindergarten for Polk County Public Schools and is currently finishing up his third year of teaching. When asked what are some lessons he’s learned in the classroom, he said that the most important thing he’s learned is how to see his kids in their uniqueness and how to meet them where they are.
“Something I say to my kids is, ‘You are the most unique thing that has ever existed.’ And I say this little funny thing where I look at the kid and say, ‘I can’t go on Amazon and search for another Jason,’ or ‘I can’t go into Walmart and find another Alexis.’ They giggle and laugh at that, but the truth is that humans are fundamentally fascinating in that we are unique physically, spiritually, and emotionally.”
Ethan strongly believes that teaching goes beyond knowing and improving a child’s intellectual level. Teaching, he says, is less about what they can do and more about who they are, as well as getting to know them and allowing them to know you. He’s learned that this can be both rewarding and difficult.
“Honestly, it can bring some amount of pain, because as you start to love these kids and know these kids, what makes them smile makes you smile, but what hurts them hurts you too,” he said emphatically. “And when you get a glimpse into the window that is their home life, you see that kids live in a broken world like we do, but they know a lot less about it.”
Now that he’s spent some time in the classroom, Ethan says that the best way to improve the education field overall is to first improve the home. The impression of the family and home life on a child, he says, is much stronger than the impression of anyone else. While teachers play a crucial role in society – in more and more schools, teachers are also serving as a “home” for their students.
How the MEd in Literacy Education Impacted the Classroom
As his teaching career has progressed, Ethan recognized that if he earned a Master of Education degree, it would greatly benefit his students. “Understanding literacy as a concept was the most powerful part of the degree,” he explained. “We were exposed to, and practiced, research-based literacy instruction. By looking at reading as a phenomenon, not a normal thing, it truly changed my perspective.”
He was especially interested in the perspective that humans are primed for oral language, not written language. Every written language is a system that follows rules made up by humans, and as we learn to read, and go through those stages of literacy development. Reading literally changes the brain by creating new neural pathways that have not existed before.
“Understanding that changed two things in my classroom,” he explained. “The first being that my empathy for struggling readers went up once I understood that what I am asking them to do is actually quite extraordinary. Not being amazing at it right away is nothing to be ashamed of.”
“The second is that my understanding around the importance of reading has been bolstered. Learning to read is more like learning a superpower than it is learning to walk or talk. While it isn’t something that our bodies aren’t necessarily designed to do, when we figure it out, we can now think and understand in a whole new way.” When Ethan began explaining reading to his students like that, like they are learning a superpower, he said it was much more encouraging than the more traditional approach to teaching reading, which often takes the stance of “you should be able to do this.”
To bring perspective to this, Ethan sums it up with this question: “Which is more powerful — someone being surprised that you can’t run a marathon, or someone who understands the incredible accomplishment that it really is?”
Advice for Current College Students Considering Teaching
Although the job of teaching can be difficult at times, Ethan believes this should not deter anyone from pursuing it as a career if it is something that they are passionate about and feel that God is calling them to do. A piece of advice Ethan would give to current students considering teaching is to find ways to gain some experience.
“Dip your toes in the water,” he said. “Serve at your local church in the kids’ or youth program, and teach some lessons. I dipped my toe in the water, literally, when I was teaching swim lessons and interacting with kids in that setting. If you can interact with kids in a setting that is not just play, that is a good way to get a taste for what it might be like. Start small, and work your way up!”
Encouragement for Current Teachers
During his time as a teacher, Ethan has been deeply encouraged by those he works alongside who have been in the teaching field longer. “To those who feel like they’re not making a difference in their classroom, they’re definitely making a difference to younger teachers. You are a light and a beacon to those in their first few years of teaching and may be contemplating, or doubting, whether they’ve made the right career choice.”
Thank you Ethan for sharing your story and for being an inspiration for current students and athletes alike! And thank you to those educators who continue to inspire people like Ethan to step into the role of a teacher and change the lives of students.
Did you know? SEU also offers a Doctor of Education (EdD) degree with tracks in Curriculum & Instruction and in Organizational Leadership.