Metlakatla: Kathy Anderson

“I loved school and was good at it, so when I was asked the proverbial question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I always responded with “I think I’ll be a teacher.””

Kathy Anderson is an English Teacher at Metlakatla High School and a mentor to 2014 Gates Scholarship applicant Alexis Wagner.


Teaching has never been easy for me, yet I continue to be directed into this profession again and again.  While a student in high school, I had no career goals.  I loved school and was good at it, so when I was asked the proverbial question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I always responded with “I think I’ll be a teacher.”

My first two years of college were at a local community college where I received a good education and earned my Associates of Arts degree.  I was ready to move on to bigger and better things and that was to the Big Ten school of Michigan State University.  I was accepted into their school of education, but received little guidance on what my class schedule should look like.

My first education class that I was enrolled in was “Writing in the Secondary Classroom.”  The professor must have presumed that we all had had methodology and pedagogy classes, but I hadn’t.  I didn’t just feel like a fish out of water, I WAS a fish out of water flopping around on land being eaten by a cat.  My internal thoughts were along the lines of “What the Hell am I doing here and I don’t want to be in this career field!”  Much to my parent’s dismay, I dropped out of the school of education and went and talked to the people in forestry.  My parent’s dismay led to, “Don’t think about that career or your funding sources will be dried up.”  They really wanted me to be a teacher

Neither of my parents attended college.  My dad was and still is a successful residential builder owning his own business.  People will wait for two years to have him build their home.  While this is the positive side of the equation, the work is hard; one often works under arduous weather conditions in the heat and humidity of the summer and the freezing cold wind and snows in the winter.  While my dad earned a good living, our family did not have health insurance.

My mother entered the workforce just for health benefits.  She worked at a factory that made weather vanes and mailbox signs.  The radio constantly blared, no windows, horribly hot in the summer, overall not a nice job to have.  They wanted me to have better in my life and constantly advised me on the virtues of teaching.  .  My relationship with my parents has always been close and I never wanted to let them down.  I think this was part of my inspiration to continue to strive to be successful even when there were questions.

After earning my English degree at MSU, I moved back home and worked for my father in his construction business.  I loved the physical work and being outside, but after a year of this I could see this was not going to be a profitable venture for me, so once again I enrolled in a college to get my teaching certificate.  This time I had a positive experience in the education program.  I went to a smaller university and felt more self-confident about myself.  After being granted and teaching certificate and working towards a minor in chemistry, I was able to find a job at a local high school.

Professionally, this was the most stressful year of my life.  I was not raised in a religious family, but every day I would be praying my way to school “Dear God, Just help me make it through this day.”   At the end of this year, my principal (I am sure happily) took my resignation letter. I felt as if I had failed at teaching.  I had no inspiration and no one mentoring me.

Once again my tool belt came off the shelf in the garage and I was banging nails for a living.  As much as I loved this work and enjoyed working for my dad, this did not seem like the right choice for me.   I was especially feeling this way in the dead of winter with the stinging winds of Lake Michigan blowing on me.  When I arrived home at the end of a long, cold day; in my mailbox was a large postcard advertising an international teaching fair at Michigan State University.  Something in my gut told me that this is the path I should follow. It is the only time ever have I received anything from Michigan State Career Services.

I attended and was hired by a school in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.  While my family and friends were nervous about my traveling to Central America, I was nervous about reentering the teaching profession.  I worked on my mindset; however, and went south with an “I can do this attitude.”  Sure enough I could.

I could not have asked for a better teaching experience.  The principal, Craig Hoogendorn, was supportive and the students were very driven to succeed.   This was a turning point in my life.  I finally had found success in a profession that had previously only given me trepidation.  A typical stay at this school for an American teacher was two years.  True to form I taught two years down there and returned back home to Michigan.

The economy had started to spiral downward and teaching jobs were hard to come by.  I worked in the field of adult education for a year before being hired in a small rural school in the Thumb of Michigan north of Detroit.  I was able to work five years there before the economy forced the school administration to give lay-offs.  I was one of those affected; my job was cut back to half time.

Alaska had always been a dream of mine.  I sent out my resume and a small island school in Southeast Alaska hired me.  I have continued to grow as a teacher and have become more masterful at my craft.
While the question asked was “Why did I become a teacher?”  the answer I gave you was the history of my teaching career.  In my mind the history and the why are intertwined.  It was not an easy choice for me to be in this career or to continue in this career; but something, be it a postcard in the mail or an inopportune layoff, always keeps me forging ahead, sometimes bungling ahead, in teaching.