Megan Norrish always knew she wanted to be a teacher. It wasn’t just that her father was a teacher or that, at 5 years old, she didn’t know what other career options were out there. It was that she fully embodied everything it meant to be an educator.
“I always enjoyed helping my friends with their schoolwork when they were confused, and they said I explained it well. Plus, I have always been drawn to creative ways of thinking, an important skill for any elementary school teacher,” she said. “Even in high school, I was voted for the superlative of ‘most likely to become a teacher,’ so I’m excited to finally be living up to that now.”
Norrish knew she wanted to teach; she just wasn’t sure how she was going to get there. When her out-of-state college dreams were quickly put to rest after finding out the cost, it left her looking at in-state options, and she set her sights on NAU. It was far enough away from her Tempe home that it offered the independence she wanted, and the environment was different enough that it felt like a new state. Plus, earning the Lumberjack Scholarship meant she could afford it.
“NAU, ultimately, was the best decision I could have made for which university to go to, even though I didn’t know it at first. What started as the only school I could afford grew to be so much more. Flagstaff became my second home. I’ve met people at NAU who I now consider family, largely thanks to my time in the True Blue Ambassador program. I’ve made memories that I will never forget, from playing D&D with my friends in the library to watching the sunrise while camping in Sedona. Passing through campus, I can point out different places I’ve made memories: hammocking in North Quad with my friends; grabbing lunch at the Union; where my roommates and I had a snowball fight at the soccer fields. I wouldn’t trade my time at NAU for anything in the world.”
It was also at NAU that Norrish had to learn the importance of balance. As someone whose “level of perfectionism was at an unhealthy level”—in high school, she got her first B in her Spanish 3-4 class and beat herself up for weeks—putting her mental health first became a priority. Though she continually works at it, she attributes that balance as contributing to her success at NAU.
Not only did Norrish build lasting memories and relationships here, she had the opportunity to hone her teaching skills at NAU while maintaining a 4.0 GPA and study abroad in England. However, her most memorable, and perhaps impactful experience, was completing her student teacher semester at a Title 1 low-income school in Guadalupe. It was anything but what she anticipated.
Most of the students at Frank Elementary experienced extreme poverty, relying on the school-provided uniforms and free food, which included breakfast, lunch and home-packed meals for the weekends. Her mentor had to report several incidents of domestic violence during Norrish’s first few months there. Many of her students were homeless, in charge of raising their siblings or had been abandoned by their parents. During the second week of school, a 15-year-old boy was killed right outside of campus in an act of gang violence.
“I had never really experienced such adversities before, yet these children were experiencing it at such a young age. Their strength inspired my own. Despite all these hardships, a smile would still light up their face every time they entered the classroom. For many of these students, school was a sanctuary for them. They loved to learn and would soak in every piece of information I would teach them. Some people might scoff at the idea of working in this environment, but it made me care for the students even more.”
Norrish hopes that after graduation, she can continue making a difference in the lives of students. She has already accepted a 4th-grade teaching position at the same school she student taught in Guadalupe and is looking forward to connecting with new students.
“Sure, being a teacher is a lot about academic learning and what the kids can accomplish, but arguably what is even more important is being a positive influence in their lives in the short time you have them. Teaching them kindness and empathy, to me, is much more important than long-division or proverbs, though I’ll always attempt to teach both. I’m proud of the impact I made on my students, no matter how small it was, and I cannot wait to lead my own classroom and continue making a difference.”
Carly Banks | NAU Communications
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