Each day during Teacher Appreciation Week, Spectrum is sharing a teacher’s story and how they view the work of Adventist education.
Adam Washington is an academy religion teacher and chaplain in California.
Can you tell me a little bit about your background and what inspired you to become a teacher?
I’m a pastor who got converted to teaching! I was raised in Southern California as a Seventh-day Adventist and went to Pacific Union College for my theology degree. After graduating and getting my first job in pastoral ministry, I got an opportunity to teach a religion class at one of the local academies. I immediately fell in love with the classroom environment and working with the students on campus. Over the next four years, I got to be a full-time pastor and teach high school religion part-time. Eventually, after spending my fifth year in ministry being just a pastor and taking some time off to reflect during the pandemic, I realized how much I missed teaching and decided to become a full-time educator.
How long have you been teaching, and what subjects and grade levels do you specialize in?
This is my fifth year in education, but this is my first year teaching full-time (I love it). I teach all four high school religion courses and one music elective.
Why did you choose to work in Adventist education? What do you appreciate most about it?
I am a product of Adventist education. In particular, I believe that my high school and college experiences fundamentally changed my life for the better. I cherish the opportunity to give back to an institution that was such a positive environment for me in my formative years, and I hope to provide a good experience for the next generation as well.
Of course, the thing I love most about working in Adventist education is the students. With the smaller class sizes of a private academy, I really get to know my students well, and they get to know my teaching style well. It also gives me the ability to tutor, mentor, and even personalize the learning experience in a more intentional way than if I had classes of 50 plus.
Finally, high school is such a unique time in the lives of students, academically, socially, and spiritually. It is a task as scary as it is sacred but one that I truly enjoy. I especially appreciate that teenagers are old enough to have deep, thoughtful discussions about God but still young enough to enjoy silly/fun activities that aid in the learning process.
How do you balance your personal life with your teaching responsibilities?
I’ll be honest, as this is my first year working full-time in education, I don’t have the best work/life balance. Thankfully, I legitimately enjoy the work I do. Along with my family, video games, music, and basketball (of which the latter two are also a big part of academy life), theology is one of my great loves. I like to come up with Bible lessons and random spiritual experiences for fun anyway, so it doesn’t always feel like work. From my previous experience, I do find that every year gets a little easier with proper preparation, so I think I will get to a better balance with time. My advice for new teachers is to view education as a long-term investment rather than a short-term one. The first few years can feel chaotic, but the more time you put in, the more you will find your way.
How do you stay motivated and inspired as a teacher, especially during challenging times?
I have several thoughts on this topic.
For me, it starts and ends with gratitude. As with every job, teaching has its own challenges; it can be long hours, hard, meticulous work, and is certainly not for everyone. But I personally think this is a pretty amazing career path. Of course, we get Thanksgiving, Christmas, spring, and summer breaks every year. We get free continuing education credits and fun academic outings. But, more importantly, we get to play an active role in shaping the next generation of Seventh-day Adventists five days out of the week. I get to see real, tangible growth and development in my students. Seeing this process take place creates a unique joy in me that, truthfully, is difficult to fully capture in words.
I also think acknowledging that, inevitably, there are going to be some bad days is also helpful. It’s impossible for everything to go perfectly regardless of how well laid out the plans may be. So, I try to set reasonable expectations for myself.
On a more practical level, there are many preemptive things that I do to make the challenging times less challenging. I do a ton of prep work to make sure that I’m not getting overwhelmed by lesson planning, grading, etc., during the year, as these things can often leech teachers of motivation. It also gives me the time for small moments of discovery and inspiration for my classes.
I think most people who have gone through school have, at some point, sat through a boring class (if not many), and remember the negative feelings associated with that experience. At the end of the day, a lot of my motivation/inspiration simply comes from an inner desire to be a great teacher. I want my students to look forward to coming to religion class. I want my lessons to be engaging, informative, and practical. I want students to experience God in a real way. I want to be a better educator, spiritual mentor, and leader each year, and I believe that all of these things, and more, are possible to achieve. Of course, I’m far, far away from being perfect in any of these matters, but I just try to chip away at these goals little by little every day. That’s what keeps me going.
You can help support Adam Washington’s classroom through his Amazon Wishlist.
Raquel Mentor is the associate digital editor for Spectrum.
Photo courtesy of Adam Washington.
We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.