For two James Monroe Middle School teachers, their pathways to their careers took different routes but ended up in the same place.

History teacher Charles Cox started his career at 50 and will retire this year after 20 years. English teacher Heather Link has just started her career after finishing her credentials and degree.

“It was a goal that my parents would go into teaching — I finished my credentials when I was 50 years old,” Cox said .”My biggest regret was that my parents had passed away by then.”

He said his reason for going into teaching has the same story as many other educators.

“It’s the same story: I went in because I wanted to try and make a difference,” Cox said.

For Link, the revelation about teaching came during her sophomore year in college.

“When I got into college, I was in my sophomore year, I realized how much you can impact a kid and influence and guide them through English and just be there for them,” Link said. “I realized that I never had that when I was in junior high or high school, so I wanted to become that for my kids.”

Both started their full time teaching careers at the Sierra Sands Unified School District. 

“My first full-time teaching job was with Sierra Sands and their APC, or Alternative Placement Center,” Cox said. “That’s where we would send students who were either suspended or expelled from the regular classroom. I did that for my first nine years.”

Link comes from Orange County.

“Orange County and LA County are on a hiring freeze for English teachers, so I sent my resume to Kern County and (Monroe principal) Dr. (Bonny) Porter called me up, so this is my first year teaching,” she said.

Lessons that focus

Both tend to take different approaches to their respective subjects. Cox teaches U.S. history but doesn’t look at just the time and place something happened.

“I teach with an emphasis on culture rather than names, dates and places. I like teaching kids where they come from,” Cox said. “I have a lot of diverse students and had ones from almost every ethnic group and helping them to understand where they came from and promote their pride in that culture.”

He added there’s a reason for his style of teaching.

“I’m not a traditional history teacher — I want kids to know why something happened, not when it just happened,” Cox said. “They need to know why it happened so that it doesn’t happen again.”

Link, who teaches English, said she always enjoyed the subject and became absorbed in during her sophomore college year. For her, the subject offers a creative outlet for her students.

“I like the fact that in English, where I focus more on critical thinking, that I get to hear my students’ voices and opinions, and like that they can connect to whatever they are learning about in class to their lives, and how that sparks these profound conversations,” Link said.

She noted that some opinions are very strongly influenced by social media but “a lot of them make very valid and interesting points and you can kind of see how their brains are comprehending what is going on in the world.”

Link includes units in her lesson plan that helps handle the saturation of information that technology provides for middle-schoolers — and how to differentiate between raw information and sourcing it.

“I actually taught them how to find reliable sources and how you can’t look at just one source, you have to look at multiple sources,” Link said. “You can’t just believe a headline on Facebook or Google.”

Cox cautions that there’s a difference between using technology and benefitting from it.

“As far as technology itself, they may know more but how it benefits them, a lot of them haven’t got a clue,” Cox said. “They really don’t know how to take that technology and make it advantageous to them”

He also summarized that being connected by just Facebook has no tangible benefit.

“I saw a cute thing posted online, something to the effect of, ‘Being famous on Facebook is like being rich in Monopoly money — it’s not real,’ “ Cox said. “That kind of says it all.”

Fond memories — and ones waiting

As Cox retires, he notes that there are several fond memories and interesting moments in his teaching career, including learning about students he made a significant difference in their lives.

“There are so many things — there’s kids that you find out you made a significant difference in their life, got them to view their life differently or got them to think more positively about themselves,” Cox said. “Hearing about them or thinking about, that’s what makes teaching worth it.”

He said those results tend to take years to see how they play out.

“Prior to being a teacher, I worked in the automotive industry and you could see instant results,” he said. “Students, it may be seven, eight, 10 years before you see any results. I just ran into one of my students from 18 years ago and got his life together. The success stories you can hear about that’s what keeps a guy going.”

Those stories are something Link said she looks forward to as her teaching career advances.

“In the future, I look forward to being able to run into my students and see how their lives turned out,” Link said. “Right now, I get them when they are 12 or 13 and they have so many years to grow up, make choices that are hopefully positive ones, to see if the goals and dreams they talked about now are what they talk or dream about in the future.”

After he retires, Cox said he plans to work with a student tour group out of Virginia. 

“I will have some contact with young people but in a totally different capacity,” he said. “I also have some ideas for some small businesses and I’d like to get back to my home area in the Pacific Northwest.”

Link reflected on her own year at Monroe.

“This last year has been wonderful from the start. This staff at the school make you feel welcome and then you become kind of like a little family” Link said. “With our students, we have a mix of them that they have all their own quirky little personalities. It’s been a good eye-opening experience.”