Q & A with Heidi Hughes


Parker Primrose, Sports editor

The Eagle Angle sat down with Phoenix teacher Heidi Hughes to talk about her relationship with her students and her career as a teacher.

Why did you choose to become an English teacher?

I went to work in the marketing industry and then I had my first child. She was beautiful and awesome, and so I figured I would be a working mom. But she was too awesome, and I didn’t really think I could do both jobs well enough, so I decided that I needed to stay home with her. Once I left that job and my children got to be grown enough that they were in kindergarten, I decided “okay, now it’s time to go back.” So I thought about it and I thought, “I don’t want to go back and sell people things that they don’t need, it’s just not something that I feel like I want to do.” So I ruminated over it for a while, and then one night — in the middle of the night — I just woke up to the word “teach.” It was scary because I didn’t have a teaching degree and that was going to be a long road. I’ve always been a teacher. In my jobs, that’s what I did. I was a marketing manager, but whenever anybody had a question or I was trying to solve problems, I was trying to teach people all the time. When I was skating competitively, I taught younger kids. It’s always been in me, I just failed to recognize it until later in life. So I bit the bullet and I went to the colleges around and I figured out what the degree plan was. I was afraid, because I’m so short, I was afraid to teach high school students and I thought I wouldn’t be good at it. But after volunteering in my kids’ classes — my own biological children’s classes — I thought, “there are a lot of bodily fluids involved here, and I’d rather not.” I also was an older person on a college campus and I was talking to people who were around a high school age, and I really enjoyed their company and the conversations we could have. So I decided that I was going to get my certification in eight through twelve. English was never really a question. I’ve always loved to read. I’ve always loved the English language; I’m a grammar nerd.

What keeps you teaching after all this time? What keeps you invested year-in and year-out?

My students. They make me smile every day. They make me laugh every day. They are so gracious when they realize what we’ve done together in a year. They are so thankful. It’s crazy because they do the work. I’m simply the guide. It’s wonderful. They’re just really amazing young men and women and it’s so fun to go on this journey with them.

A lot of high school kids really dread their English class, but your class was very unique in that students actually wanted to come to class. What do you think makes your classroom so special?

Respect. I respect the learners in my room. I want to create an environment that you want to come into, and I want to laugh every day. I want learning to be fun. I want it to be a great experience. There’s a lot you have to do that’s kind of the disciplined work of learning the material, but I’ve always tried to infuse some creativity into the work and some choice so that it’s more autonomous. A lot of it has to be driven because of the skills that we have to know, but a lot of it is also a matter of “how can I make this more interesting for students? How can I make this more engaging? What kind of seeds can I plant so that they can take those seeds and make it their own?” All of the stuff we do, some of it is a little dry, but if we can laugh and have a good time, I’m down for that.

A lot of teachers just assign work and step away, but with Independent Study Projects you do one of your own alongside the students. What’s been your favorite experience with ISP, and what makes you want to work alongside your students?

I think anything that I assign I should value enough that I’m willing to do it. My independent study experience over the years has just been wonderful. So many students do such creative things. They create such wonderful products, and it blows my mind sometimes. My first year, I had a student who was heavily invested in media, and she created an amazing black-and-white, kind of 40s-noir music video that was stunning. From my own personal experience — why I want to do it — because if I stop learning, I start dying. It’s just not fun to be alive without some kind of learning happening. One year I created costumes for majestics over at Lovejoy. One year I took a Coursera class over poetry that almost killed me because I was taking it in the fall while my grade load was crazy, but it was very rewarding. It was nice to kind of step back into a college class. It was well-designed and it had a student panel along with the professor, so it just felt like they were talking to you and it was rewarding. I’ve also taken a writing class on Coursera to make sure that what I’m offering in [the classroom] is actually college level based on what I’m seeing out in the world. For three years I have worked to try to get myself ready to raise a colony of bees. I actually got my bees, and unfortunately I failed in that endeavor because my colony collapsed. But I love the example because it’s a true example of the process being more important than the product. I’m happy to say in front of my classes that I failed because it indicates I’m willing to take a risk and they should be too. This year I’m going to go back to sewing. I’ve got some quilting products that I’d really like to tackle. I’m not sure if I’ll do another one as well, but I think I’m going to stick with sewing this year.

When your students move on at the end of the year, what’s one thing you want them to have learned or have gained from your class?

I want them to feel like they are stronger communicators, both on the page and orally. I want them to feel like they can hold their own in an argument, and they can write what’s on their mind and make a strong point.