Personal Legend Project: Kevin Morse

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Kevin Morse, Chemistry Teacher, Westfield High School

A couple weeks before the idea for this project came up, I was talking with some friends from high school about the work we were doing.  Kevin said how much he loved the entire process of teaching, from reading every new chemistry book he could get a hold of to the breakthrough moment when he can help a student understand a new concept.

It’s great to see someone I’ve known for 20 years combine skills they’ve always shown, such as leadership and an enthusiasm for sharing knowledge, into their Personal Legend.

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The following set of six questions will be answered by each of the subjects.

1)  Some people call it a “true calling” or their “life’s work.”  In the book The Alchemist, author Paulo Coelho calls it your Personal Legend. What do you consider to be your true calling, or Personal Legend?

I believe my calling is to teach science.  At different times I thought it was more broad: be a teacher, work at a high school, work with young people, etc.  The longer I have taught, the more I have realized that my passion lies in the subject, the students, and the process of teaching.  I can get excited about teaching other things or working with young people in other ways, but I am most driven and fulfilled when sharing science content knowledge with high schoolers.

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2)  When did you first realize that this was your calling?

I first considered being a teacher when I was in middle school.  The jazz band director at my middle school was a young science teacher who led the jazz band after school.  When spending time with him at school and at shows/competitions away from school, it seemed like he truly loved being with middle and high school kids.  He was happy and it seemed to keep him young.  That spoke to me. 

As I had other great teachers in high school and college, there was a common theme.  The great teachers didn’t necessarily always have the biggest smile or the happiest demeanor, but they seemed fulfilled by their job.  They wanted to be doing what they were doing, and that’s why they did it well. 

The combination of working with young people, finding fulfillment, and studying topics that I enjoyed pushed me to teaching.  Experiences in college confirmed that it was a good path for me.  There were moments during student teaching and my first years of teaching that helped me to feel that I was doing the right thing and pushed me to improve.  Somewhere around year 6-8 of teaching, I felt that I had truly started to become who I was supposed to be.

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3)  People often become completely engrossed, losing track of time or outside concerns while performing tasks related to their calling.  This might be referred to as being “in the zone” or “flow.”  When do you experience this most often?

I feel most “in the zone” when I am planning and reflecting on lessons, especially when working with my colleagues.  I can spend hours designing a lab, writing a test, or developing a new way to teach a lesson without noticing the world around me.  Each time I present a lesson, I want it to be the best, not just good enough or better than before.  Striving towards perfection excites and motivates me.  

It seems weird to admit that I feel most “in the zone” when I am not with my students.  That isn’t the way a great teacher is normally portrayed.  I LOVE the time with the students, but for me what I do away from my students is what allows me to be my best with my students.

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4)  What is the greatest challenge or obstacle you’ve faced in pursuit of your life’s work?

I have been lucky that there haven’t been significant obstacles that have slowed me down.  Just like with all jobs, there are day-to-day tasks (grading, copies, etc.) that don’t thrill me.  There are politics (at both the local and national levels) that can bring stress and discouragement.  Instead of keeping a list of complaints on these and the other things that make teaching tough, I do my best to be encouraged that I get to work with great kids at a great school each day.

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5)  What has pursuing your Personal Legend taught you?

Be willing and able to learn from others.  I improved greatly as a teacher when I started collaborating with others.  The combined experience and passion of multiple people has taken my teaching to another level.  Taking that lesson to all parts of my life has made me a better person.

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6)  What piece of advice can you offer to others seeking their true calling?

When you feel like you are doing what you are supposed to be doing, fully commit and hold on for the ride.  My teaching career was not been what I imagined it would be when I first thought of being a teacher 25 years ago as a middle school student.  Teaching has taken me across the country and back.  I have taught students, learned from other teachers, learned from students, and taught other teachers.  From the outside, my experiences may not look extraordinary, but all of the little things that I have done have increased my passion and made me the teacher I am today.

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Are you following your Personal Legend?  Tell us about it in the comments below.

Subscribe to the blog, or add us to your RSS feed to follow along as we post a new set of images each day for the next 30 days.   For background on this project, check out our first post in the series.