This year, my third in the classroom, I’m especially grateful. When my dad earned his college diploma this spring, he decided to follow in my footsteps. Today, ask for Mr. Hiatt at our Ohio school and you’ll need to get more specific.
My college graduation from Xavier University in 2009 was the first in our family’s history. When my dad, John Hiatt, graduated from Xavier in 2014, his became the second.
My dad’s was a less direct route to higher education. He spent his young adulthood in the military before going into business for himself. When the economy crashed, he took the opportunity to go back to school. As I worked towards my law degree, he earned his bachelor’s.
By the time we were both grads, I had realized I was more interested in the classroom than the courtroom. I joined Teach For America, and got two years of teaching under my belt. I had a strong sense of what a successful classroom looked like, an appetite for challenges, and an absolute belief in the importance of our kids having leaders dedicated to their success.
The Student Becomes the Teacher
So when the English position at my school opened, I knew that the person who’d been my first teacher would make a great one for my students too. One night, over dinner, I made the pitch. He applied, interviewed and here we are.
Today, my dad teaches next door to me at North Dayton School of Discovery in Dayton, Ohio. Together, we make up two-thirds of our school’s eighth grade team. As my father began his first year and I started my third, I was excited to help him find his stride but I hadn’t expected he would still have a few things to teach me.
As a seasoned leader, he already understood the principles of effective teaching, including the importance of culture, community and strong vision. Before long, I started to notice that our weekly sessions were as instructive for me as they were for him.
Informed by years of experience inspiring people towards common goals, my dad’s gentle questions forced me to see where I could push my own leadership. Every day, I watched him overcome roadblocks I had struggled with and seize opportunities I had overlooked. I may have shown him some teaching basics, but he taught me how to be a better educator.
Paths Are Changeable
Our students face all sorts of challenging circumstances—from economic injustice to racial bias to intergenerational poverty. But if there’s anything my dad’s story helps bring to life, it’s that paths are changeable. Over the course of this first year, I’ve watched his sense of possibility inspire our school community.
Late this fall, my dad noticed that traditional teaching structures weren’t working for our students. So he spent winter break teaching himself the basics of project-based learning. From there, he reached out to Dayton early childhood centers and created a program where his students taught and chaperoned preschoolers. As they wrote lesson plans, developed reading standards, and taught the younger children, our students learned to work with informational texts—and had a blast.
The program was so successful, the parents of the three- and four-year-olds returned the following week for another series of lessons. And the impact was notable for our kids, too. Students who started the year unable to stay in their seats were helping teach phonics and coping skills.
Other teachers have since implemented similar projects in their classrooms and our school is stronger for it.
Every day, I’m grateful to teach with my father and the talented educators at our school—some of the most creative, compassionate, committed people I’ve met. We all should recognize the countless teachers who motivate not just their students but young educators like me.