MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE -- There's no rhyme or reason to when or how one might be inspired to become a teacher.
Jane Swann said she was a first-grader in Eugene. She was weary of bullies in class, and thought as a teacher she could make certain others didn't go through the same thing.
Photo by Pete Strong
Jane Swann leads a lesson on Oregon's economy at Ash Creek Elementary Thursday. Swann was named Central Education Association's elementary teacher of the year.
"And I saw what teachers did and I thought that was cool, how you could make a difference," said Swann, a third- and fourth-grade teacher at Ash Creek Elementary School.
Meanwhile, Mike Jennings, now a math teacher at Central High School, had been working for several years as a land surveyor in Alaska, trundling across the frozen north by bush plane, when he got a volunteer gig with teens.
"It was a bunch of 14-year-olds who nobody wanted to work with," Jennings said. "But I fell in love with it and I knew that I wanted to be a teacher."
Swann and Jennings were recently selected by their peers in the Central Education Association -- the local teachers union -- as elementary and secondary teachers of the year, respectively. Both will be recognized during the Monmouth-Independence Chamber of Commerce's Community Awards Banquet on March 9.
Swann has been teaching for nearly 35 years, from preschool to high school. She attended what used to be Oregon College of Education in Monmouth, but returned home to help her family before she finished her degree.
"I wanted to be a history teacher and counselor in high school," Swann said.
Swann would meet her husband, Kevin -- he's now ACES office specialist -- in North Carolina while he was serving in the Marines during the mid-1980s. She worked at child development centers on a military base there and, later, in California.
In 1993, the couple moved to Boardman, where Swann ran a day care and oversaw an infant-toddler program at the local high school and worked with native Spanish speaking students.
"That's when I went back to school to get my license to teach," Swann said. "I started at OCE and I finished there."
Swann taught at Independence Elementary School in 1997, then moved to Ash Creek Elementary School when it opened in 2002. Here, she's part of the parent-teacher club, is on the site council, and a report card committee. She's also a union contract negotiator.
"I pretty much live at school," she said. "But I wouldn't do it if I didn't love it ... the kids keep me young, active and engaged."
"I think with any career, you find something that suits you and you go for it," said Jennings, who has taught a mix of math subjects for all grades at Central High since 2001.
A Mt. Angel native, Jennings originally attended the Oregon Institute of Technology to earn a civil engineering degree. After graduating in 1985, he worked for the Bureau of Land Management in Anchorage, Alaska, as a land surveyor.
"They sent me everywhere," Jennings said, noting the Aleutian islands, the Yukon and the North Slope as some of his destinations. "It was an excellent experience."
But the volunteer experience with kids set him on a new path. After earning his teaching degree at Eastern Washington University, Jennings taught for four years in Costa Rica.
Photo by Pete Strong
Mike Jennings works through a trigonometry problem on a projector Friday at Central High School. Jennings is Central's secondary teacher of the year for 2011-12.
Back in Oregon, he taught middle school in Corvallis for a year before coming to Central High. In Independence, he's been an assistant volleyball coach for eight years and was on the visioning committee during the high school reconstruction process.
"I like teaching at the high school; it's difficult and stimulating," he said. "I like where the kids are at in this stage of their lives, as far as what they're interested in."