Evan Justin reflects on years as teacher
By Blake Grossman, Reporter
Evan Justin retired from McMurray Middle School after teaching his final class of eighth-grade science last year, capping off a 35-year career in education. Justin looks back on his journey as a teacher with fondness and satisfaction, and what a journey it was.
Justin’s first teaching positions were certainly untraditional.
“My very first teaching gig was as a counselor in a juvenile detention facility. My second teaching gig was in a single building K-12 district,” Justin said.
The latter was in Arcola, Illinois. Justin taught seven different classes from remedial math through physics to a population that was part Amish.
“I was replacing someone who ran away from the job in terror after about mid semester,” Justin said.
Even after becoming an eighth-grade science teacher on Vashon Island, Justin taught with a unique style, a style that changed over the course of his career.
“When I started off, I was this big empiricist … I was trained classically as a scientist. [I thought], if it exists, you can measure it, if you can measure it, you can reproduce it, and I was going to recapitulate this with my kids. Everything that I had discovered I could learn and transmit, and I was going to create this conveyor belt of knowledge,” he said.
Justin eventually realized that this method was not fostering the experience he wanted for himself and his students.
“Everything I did was an attempt to get more and more and more through me into my students. And after a while, it occurred to me [that] we're all running like hell for no real purpose. So I started asking [my students] what they thought, and I started learning what they needed… And it became a lot more fun,” Justin said.
As Justin transitioned to a student-focused style, he started to learn about himself as well.
“I started introspecting. [Half of what made me love teaching] was the science, the curriculum that I love. And it was natural that the other half of what I loved [about] teaching was the people … There's no science without people … Without people, there's no anything. So if I made my class about people, it would probably work,” Justin said.
His approach to teaching was also affected by his own experience going to school as a kid.
“In second grade, I [experienced] a major event that restructured my brain. I needed speech therapy. I needed [two years] of special-ed to retrain [me] how to write and how to read,” Justin said.
As an elementary school student, Justin loathed the extra work that he was forced to do, but his efforts at a young age to regain communicative function ultimately endowed him with a perspective that he would carry forward into his teaching.
“I [realized] at an early age that with focus and persistence, and a kind of internal ruthlessness, I could do anything,” Justin said. “And the solution to almost any problem began with an ‘ask.’ If I followed it up with relentless pursuit, I could do anything … Anything can be overcome. You figure out what the block is, roll it aside a bit at a time, and the flood will commence … Working [as a teacher] with students that seemed intractable or just befuddled, my feeling was always ‘you can do this,’ and I think comfortable optimism is contagious.”