Milwaukee Teacher Highlighted in the Lake Union Herald

Milwaukee Teacher Highlighted in the Lake Union Herald
The following excerpt, highlighting Travis Dennis, a teacher in our Milwaukee school, was originally published in the Lake Union Herald, April 2023. For full article highlighting teachers from each of the Lake Union conferences, click HERE.
APRIL 3, 2023
“I Choose to Teach”
A nursing assistant, a lumberjack, a journalist, a marketing professional and a transportation logistics manager. They all have one thing in common: They decided to go back to school, not as students—but to teach.

Why would these five teachers decide to stick it out when daily we hear reports that teachers nationwide are quitting at an alarming rate? In the Lake Union, that rate has accelerated too.

Lake Union Education Director Ruth Horton points to a confluence of factors causing many teachers to change careers, and many potential teachers to forgo education altogether as a career choice. Among these factors are pandemic-related workload demands, teacher burnout, compensation concerns, fear of incurring unmanageable debt in pursuit of higher education, on-the-job safety concerns, byproducts of diminishing constituent embrace and support for Adventist education, and increasingly contentious social, cultural and political battles that often target educators.

Despite so many challenges, many Lake Union teachers keep showing up in their classrooms. And others are stepping up to fill vacancies—often leaving behind interesting and rewarding careers. The following profiles offer glimpses into what leads some professionals to choose—and remain in—Christian education…

…Wisconsin

Sometimes after school, Travis Dennis likes to sit down at home and work on a jigsaw puzzle. “I’m currently working on a 1,000-piece puzzle of the night sky,” he says.  “It’s not an easy puzzle, that’s for sure,” Dennis admits, “but it helps me unwind at the end of a school day.” Dennis teaches all subjects for fifth and sixth graders at Milwaukee Seventh-day Adventist School.

Teaching hasn’t always been Dennis’s vocation, however. He worked as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) for eight years. His father was a pastor and teacher, and his mother was a school librarian. Dennis “grew up in schools” and remembers being with his mother in the school library when Space Shuttle Challenger exploded. “I was probably sitting under her desk at the time,” he adds.

Dennis sees his work as a CNA and a teacher as being very complementary. “I like helping people” he explains, “and that’s at the core of both of those professions.” Dennis credits his parents’ employment, at least in part, for his switch to teaching. “My parents were called to new teaching jobs, and their educational superintendent said to me, ‘I think you should consider teaching, too.’ He was right.”

One of the greatest rewards Dennis finds in teaching is “helping kids succeed.” He remembers one student, a particularly quiet pupil who wasn’t doing as well as he could have in school. This student eventually went on to earn a graduate degree in chemical engineering. “You do what you can for each student, and leave the rest to Jesus,” Dennis says. “You never know what you do or say that might ignite a spark with a student. You don’t always see the results during your brief time together, but you do your best to help them develop a foundation that they can build upon.”

Dennis admits to seeing changes in students now, compared with when he first began teaching. “Kids grow up faster now,” he observes. “I try to help them preserve some of their childhood. I think that’s so important.”

Dennis is teaching 24 students this year, his largest group. He has an aide who assists in the classroom three days a week with grading and tutoring. “She’s invaluable,” Dennis says.

For those who may be considering teaching, either as a first career or a change of career, Dennis advises, “You must have patience. That is essential. School always came easy for me, but for many students it doesn’t. You have to work with the students wherever they are.”

 

Emily Gibbs and Beverly Matiko

Freelance writer Emily Gibbs is a teacher at Great Lakes Adventist Academy. Beverly Matiko, newly retired English and Communication professor, is especially grateful for the opportunity to co-author this article with her former student, Emily Gibbs. Emily chose Beverly as her faculty mentor for her creative writing honors thesis. They both cherish memories of the time they spent together wrestling with words and ideas during Emily’s undergraduate years at Andrews University.