by Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
Karen Sturlaugson, Kate Sumner, Marcia Pifer
It’s the family business. It’s a craft that’s passed down through the generations. It’s growing up in a family of educators, so teaching is “in the blood” and an inevitable career path, even if one tries other professions first.
We found some CTA members whose teaching lineage goes way back. In their own words, they tell how their ancestry has influenced their lives today.
Robin Taylor, Elk Grove Education Association
My dad was my Spanish teacher in high school. I tried to keep it a secret from my peers. One day a substitute asked how it felt to have my dad as a teacher, and all the kids turned around to look at me. I was mortified. After that moment I was fine, because I admired my dad and knew how much of a difference he made.
I come from a long line of teachers. My great-grandmother was a beloved public school teacher in Ukiah. Mamie Taylor raised two sons, one of whom was my grandfather, John Taylor, who became Mendocino County superintendent of schools. He had two sons, one of whom is my father, who became a high school Spanish teacher at the same high school in which his grandmother taught and where he attended high school.
My father, Robert Taylor, was respected and loved by his students. He was Teacher of the Year several times. As a testament to the influence he had on his students, several of them became Spanish teachers, and cite him as an inspiration. In fact, the current Ukiah High School Spanish department boasts four of his former students.
My father retired in 2006. It was the same year my brother (also Robert Taylor) finished up his first year teaching Spanish at Elk Grove High School. Ukiah High School conducted an exhaustive search for a new Spanish teacher to replace my father. They couldn’t find the right candidate until they interviewed my brother. One Robert Taylor replaced the other. Students were confused when they received their fall schedules; they still had Robert Taylor for Spanish and were very surprised to see a young version of their previous teacher.
My brother has taught Spanish in Ukiah for seven years. He met his wife there; she is also a Spanish teacher and former student of my father's. Both belong to the Ukiah Teachers Association. My mother (Emiko Taylor) was a teacher's aide in the elementary school system in Ukiah and came from a long line of educators in Japan.
I have taught elementary school in Elk Grove since 2003. I am proud to carry on the family tradition. I choose to be called Mrs. Taylor by students (instead of my husband's last name) to honor the heritage of my family and also to honor my great-grandmother, the original Mrs. Taylor.
Jill Breslin, Shasta Unified Elementary Association
Growing up in a family of teachers was fun. They talked about what happened in their classrooms. They shared happiness if one of their students made progress. They shared lesson plans, activities and stories.
My great-grandmother, Hattie Findley, was a teacher. She graduated from San Francisco State Teachers College in 1899. My grandmother gave me her graduation bracelet when I graduated from Chico State in 1988. My great-grandmother worked in San Luis Obispo in 1904 at the primary school.
Hattie married Ward Martin, and they had five children including Merle, my grandmother, who became a teacher. She graduated from San Jose State, where she met my grandfather, Harold Houser, who also became a teacher. They moved to Grass Valley. Grandma taught English and art, and Granddad taught shop and was the football coach and later became the principal. The football field is named after him.
Merle and Harold had three children; two of them became teachers. One of them is my mother, Linda Houser, who taught elementary school in the San Juan Unified School District until she retired. Her first teaching job was at Antelope School in Red Bluff, and she was only 20 when she was hired. The first time staff went out for TGIF, she couldn’t join them because she wasn’t 21. My uncle Harold Houser Jr., known as Skip, taught in Grass Valley for many years and became the superintendent of schools for Nevada County.
My father, Dave David, is also a teacher. He and my mom met at Chico State University, and he taught elementary school in Rio Linda Unified School District.
Then there’s me. I have been teaching at Shasta Elementary School for 25 years.
I have two boys. They are going into petroleum engineering. But who knows? Perhaps one of their children may become a teacher one day.
Janelle Williams, San Bernardino Teachers Association, and family
Janelle: Education is our family business because we’re all very caring people. We like working with kids and seeing them grow in their abilities. We talk education all the time. We pass tips, advice and strategies and support each other. I think we pass around lessons, too. Lifelong learning runs in the family; we all have master’s degrees.
I was actually a business major in college. I began working at a savings and loan in the training department. I enjoyed training people for their new jobs. And that led me into teaching. You try to fight it, but you can’t, because teaching is fun.
I earned my bachelor’s degree from San Diego State University, then went to Cal Poly Pomona and got my master’s in educational technology. I taught business and computer classes for 26 years in Alhambra and also in San Bernardino. I earned my master’s in counseling from Azusa University. I’d undergone a medical problem and was in the hospital for a long time. I realized people need a deeper understanding of the personal problems students face in school and in life. Being a counselor is rewarding because you know kids on a personal level and can help them with their problems. I’m now a counselor at Ramona Alessandro Elementary School in San Bernardino.
Marcia Pifer, Janelle’s mother: My mother-in-law had several sisters who were teachers. It seemed natural to go into teaching. I received my bachelor’s degree from Cal Poly Pomona and earned a master’s degree in education with an emphasis on reading in 1985. I taught kindergarten and then first grade, becoming a reading specialist in the Colton Unified School District, where I taught from 1980 to 1999. I liked everything about it. I’m retired now, but help my daughter Karen in her classroom. I go almost every day. As a volunteer, I experience the joy without the stress.
Karen Sturlaugson, Janelle’s sister: Mother loved to go work every day, and I knew that was the career I wanted, too. I teach third grade at Roberts Elementary School in San Bernardino. I received my credential in 1986 from Cal State San Bernardino and also have a master’s degree from Chapman University in reading instruction. I’ve been an elementary school teacher 26 years. I have two daughters; the oldest is in the student teaching program through University of Redlands.
Kate Sumner, Karen’s daughter: I earned my bachelor’s degree in communicative disorders and wanted to be a speech-language pathologist. I wanted to stay away from teaching. Then I changed my mind. I spent a lot of time going to Mom’s schools since first grade and got used to being at a school and seeing her teach. I knew it was a good way to help kids. I am now student-teaching at Mariposa Elementary in Redlands. I like it a lot.
Janelle: My kids, Doug and Sarah, are in college. I’m not sure whether they’ll go into teaching.
Marcia: We might have more teachers in the family. Doug has always wanted to be a PE teacher. And Sarah looks like she’ll make a good English teacher someday.
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