Learning to love learning

The love of learning pays off in careers in many industries. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, earnings increase and unemployment decreases as educational attainment rises. But this doesn’t mean we all need doctorate degrees or bachelor’s degrees. It just means learning matters. Currently, less than half of Southwest Virginia residents have pursued education beyond high school, but by 2020, 65 percent of all jobs in the economy will require postsecondary education and training beyond high school, according to Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce.

When Jennifer Brewster, a Tazewell County, Virginia native, was a substitute teacher in a third-grade classroom, she said, “A little boy kept asking me to read things for him, telling me he couldn’t read. ‘Well, why don’t you just try,’ I said. ‘Show me what you CAN do.’ And he started reading and I said, ‘Who told you that you can’t read? Because you can read beautifully.’ He said, ‘My teacher told me I can’t read.’”

She said, “That was one of the many times I knew God was telling me, ‘This is why you need to be a teacher.’ Students need a teacher who encourages them and helps them learn to love what they are doing. I’d always wanted to be a teacher since I was little, but I didn’t have any type of certification or degree, so that was one of the moments that helped me to finally realize it was time to step out and pursue my dream. My kids were getting older and my husband said, ‘Go back and do it now. There is no better time. You’ve always wanted to do this, and you know we can’t have three in college at the same time!’”

Her husband encouraged her to go over and talk to Bluefield College, his alma mater. “I went over to Bluefield with no appointment. I just walked in and said I wanted to talk to someone about starting college in the fall. Dr. Gomez, who was the assistant dean at the time, had a daughter who was in school with one of my children. She saw me and came out of her office and said, ‘No way!’ She sat down with me at a table and went over the whole schedule for the program. When I left there, I had my class schedule for the fall. It was so easy, and nothing like I had expected. So, it was my time to further my education. At the age of 38, I went to college.”

Her parents moved to Bluefield to help with the kids, and Jennifer pursued a B.S. in Interdisciplinary Studies with teacher licensure (Elementary Education – Pre-K-6). She completed the program in three and a half years as a full-time traditional student, graduating in 2008.

She said, “The staff and faculty were all so friendly and nice. It was like family. I made friends and I was even in a few of my classmates’ weddings. What makes Bluefield College so special is the togetherness. Everyone works together like family.”

Dr. Thomas Brewster, Dean and Associate Professor of the School of Education at Bluefield College said, “We are especially proud of students like Jennifer who chose Bluefield College’s teacher education program after developing their passion to be a teacher from prior experiences. Stackable licensure and credentials give our students the opportunity to advance within the field of education, providing continuous learning and added financial incentives.”

Jennifer said, “Having a career as a teacher has taken the burden off of my husband to be the sole provider for our family. It’s been a tremendous help financially. My paycheck provides for our children to get an education.”

Her oldest son graduated in May from ETSU Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy and is a practicing pharmacist, and her youngest son is a final year student at Radford University pursuing his MBA.

“Completing the program gave me a sense of fulfillment that I earned something on my own that nobody else could do for me,” she said. “It empowered me to do other things – make decisions and carry on conversations with people I’d never dreamed I could talk to before.”

Dr. Donna Watson, Professor of the School of Education, said Jennifer has since served as a mentor for other teacher education candidates in the program. “She’s caring and creative. She holds high standards for her elementary students, and an even higher standard for herself. She’s an exemplary graduate of the Teacher Education Program at Bluefield College, and she spreads goodness and light in her classroom each day.”

Jennifer said, “Looking back, before I went to Bluefield College, I was very insecure with low self-esteem. I was so wrapped up in my little circle – just my family. I’d use every excuse not to step out of that circle, but I’m glad I had the support to pursue my degree. I have told Dr. Watson many times before, that not only did my degree help me build my skillset and earn a better paycheck; it gave me the confidence and self-assurance that I could make a difference.”

“I’ve seen a lot of students who don’t have much. When I was at North Tazewell, about 85% of the students were on free or reduced lunch. I wanted to teach them to love learning and be empowered. I wanted them to succeed and that was my way to invest in them.”

This fall, Jennifer Brewster is beginning her fourth year at Graham Intermediate School teaching fifth grade. She’s living proof that education is more than a diploma.

She said, “Education empowers you. Not only does college help you gain knowledge about theories and practices, but it teaches perseverance and self-confidence. Education is not just my profession. I believe it’s the way to success in life.”

Article 6/11 in the Operation Tomorrow’s Workforce written series by United Way of Southwest Virginia.