A Q&A with Westwood teacher Stephen Gregg about his decision to leave banking and pursue a career in education.
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My worst day teaching is better than my best day in banking.
Dalton Difference Makers - Staff Spotlight
Stephen Gregg, 4th Grade Teacher at Westwood
Schools Attended: Brookwood, City Park, Dalton Junior High, Dalton High
Higher Education: Auburn - B.S. in Business Administration; Berry College – Masters in Education; University of West Georgia - ED. S. in Instructional Technology
Former Occupation: 20 years in Banking
Favorite book: I have a million favorites, but most recently it was a book called "Ghost Soldier" which is a story about the POWs in the Phillipines in WWII.
Favorite Music Group: Led Zepplin.
Favorite Snack: Anything chocolate.
What led you to become a teacher?
SG: Both of my parents were educators – my mother taught at Roan Street School and my father taught 7th grade before he went to Dalton Jr. College. So I was around teachers growing up, but didn't really have any inclination. I always enjoyed working with kids, but it just wasn't my inclination at the time. Then one evening, I looked at my wife and said," I want to teach school." It was just as simple as that. You know, banking was a vocation, and I guess getting older you just want something more than a vocation.
I began here at Westwood in 2001. I've been here the whole time. I've taught third and now fourth grade. And I knew that very first day that this is where I was supposed to be. Banking was a vocation – I enjoyed it, I enjoyed the people I worked with, but this is a passion. Some days at school are more challenging than others, but I've never had a bad day.
Why did you choose elementary age?
SG: I've always enjoyed being around children at that age. First of all, it's a fun age. The world is new to them. There are still so many new things to learn—about themselves, about the world. They are still very innocent for the most part. They're still interested. They're not that independent type yet. So I just thought that'd be an exciting age to teach.
Secondly, for children, I think building self-esteem at an early age is just so important. And if you don't have it as a child, you may never get it or it may take a long time to get it. And so I see that as a role of mine. Outside of academics, your role is to support that child. And for some that may not have an adult male presence in their lives, I wanted to be someone they could see; a male they could talk to; to model for. I could show them something else than what they might see at home.
I tell parents when I have conferences that I see academics and education as just half of my role. The state wants me to teach this, but I'm also here to nurture them – I want to give them hugs, I want to tell them they are special. I want them to feel good about themselves when they leave the door in the afternoon. I want them to know there is a teacher that supports them, gives them structure, believes in them and wants them to succeed.
What's the most memorable lesson you've ever taught?
SG: My first year of teaching and the first test I gave. When I got the test back and I saw that they had learned something... that was the first time I had affirmed to myself that they had gotten what I taught. And that gave me a sense that "I'm supposed to be here." I felt good about that. And it may be something a lot of teachers feel – that first time you help a child to "get it."
Any interesting hobbies outside of the classroom?
SG: This is my 19th year doing the radio broadcast for Northwest football and basketball, and it's my fifth year sharing the radio broadcast for Dalton State Roadrunner basketball.
I loved growing up as a Dalton Catamount and I'd love to do their broadcast, but I was in banking at the time when the job for the Catamounts came open. So I get a lot of grief from both Northwest folks and from Dalton folks saying, "Well, who are you really for?" And I just tell them, "I'm for the kids." I really am.
I love sports. Any sport, any game with a ball in it, I'm watching. I follow Auburn and have been a season ticket holder since '84.
What else are you involved in around the community?
SG: I am active at First Baptist Church here in Dalton. I'm serving as a deacon. Outside of school, that and radio take up most of my time.
What is a challenge you've come across in your career and how did you overcome it?
SG: Several years ago I went back to school and got an EDS in instructional technology, which helped pull me out of the "dinosaur era" a lot. I've still got a lot to learn. But now, technology has been integrated in the classroom and I can see how it helps engage the kids. I'm glad I went back to school to get that to help me be a better teacher because the kids really enjoy using that technology.
I enjoy when we have our grade-level meetings. Pulling ideas from other teachers, especially in the technology area, because things are changing so rapidly. One teacher taught me NearPod this year, which the students are enjoying. There are two others that have things they want to show me. So the biggest thing is using the opportunity to learn from others who have an expertise in that area that I just do not.
Any tried-and-true activities you use in your classroom?
SG: Well, we do goofy things. We come up with little silly chants or dances or raps and it helps them learn or memorize concepts. They remember it. I'll have middle school students come back and say, "Mr. Gregg!" and they'll repeat them back. It makes me glad they've retained something I taught three or four years later. A lot of them are silly, but the kids love silliness if it's controlled.
I come up with different characters I play during the day. It sometimes helps with learning concepts when they have a certain person teaching it or sometimes it's just for entertainment. Adjectives and adverbs are not the most exciting things in the world, but using these characters gets their attention.
For example, there's a kid I become, Buford, kind of like a 4th grade Ernest T. Bass from the Andy Griffith Show. I had an 11th grader the other day that asked how Buford was doing. Or, there's also a caveman teacher who does these little chants and goes in and talks with them like a caveman would.
*Note: view the video below to see the "Cave-teacher" character join the kids in a chant about pronouns!
Teaching mentors: Roosevelt Cook for fifth grade and W. R. Pearson at Dalton High
Do you think those teachers inspired the way you teach today?
SG: As far as challenging my students, yes. They both had extremely structured classes that were very difficult and set high standards. I came out of class knowing what I had to know and was well prepared to move forward, and those things carry with me today.
I think kids want to be challenged and feel that sense of achieving something. And they want that affirmation from their teacher. Both of those teachers I mentioned set high standards, but they also recognized those achievements. I think that influenced me here in the classroom.
What I like about Westwood is that we all want to help each other. That support then I received from everybody when I got started and the support now that I receive from everybody, that makes a big difference. I enjoy being here and I enjoy the people I work with. It's a good atmosphere.
What would you tell someone else who was considering changing careers to pursue teaching?
SG: I think changing my vocation and becoming a teacher has just been one of the most joyous experiences in my life. This is my calling, and I knew that from the very first day I had students walk into my class. I feel it every day. No disrespect to banking, but my worst day teaching is better than my best day in banking.