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Mick Stewart understands the power a single choice can have in changing a person’s life. As the son of two parents who were first-generation college graduates, Stewart says he was always conscious of the impact of his parents’ choice to pursue education: “My life was changed because of that decision.” His parents’ example, he says, influenced his passion to “help people look for the next step.”
His time at BYU, and his 25 years of teaching, have built upon this foundation. Stewart was inspired by his cohort and loved his professors, who stressed that “it’s not a job if you have a passion to lift others.” His professors influenced Stewart’s approach to teaching, he says: “You’re not teaching things; you’re building character. You’re not giving them facts; you’re giving them the ability to think.”
Stewart has become a leader in his school district in Tucson, Arizona through his introduction of the AVID program. AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) helps support and prepare students for college. Stewart, who has spent most of his career at economically disadvantaged Title One schools, feels AVID helps him have ability to truly change his students’ lives. He talks of teaching students in a school close to the University of Arizona who had never stepped foot on the campus. “It wasn’t in their line of sight,” he says. Through AVID, students receive what Stewart calls a “bridge” of skills and support that help them make the journey from high school to college.
This year, Stewart’s last class each day is a group of “rambunctious” freshmen. He loves helping set a foundation for their future. Inspired by his parents’ decision all those years ago, Stewart enjoys the reminder of his teaching foundation to “help students make a directional change.”
The harvest of that effort comes at the end of each school year. “Graduations are the most amazing time of the year,” Stewart says. He loves dressing in his own BYU graduation robes, escorting his students, and celebrating those who have received college scholarships.
Stewart does his best to keep in touch with past students to see how they grow and what they achieve. He also takes current students on tours of Arizona college campuses to envision new possibilities. Stewart loves being able to sit back and see his past and present students interact. These are the moments he is most proud of.
“Just seeing kids that are making that change, going to college, helping and interacting with the kids I’m helping to get there,” Stewart says.
His career has taught Stewart that “it’s about what’s best for the student.” Conflict is inevitable, but Stewart warns new teachers that trying to “win” each conflict means “you are going to be so exhausted.” Instead, he says, focus on what matters most—the students: “You can’t rise together if you’re pushing someone down.”
The hardest part of the job for Stewart is “when you see a kid that could do anything, and they choose something that is less.” On the other hand, Stewart says, he reminds himself that students’ happiness is the most important: “They don’t have to choose your path in order to find success.”
Stewart focuses on the importance of connecting with young people and showing them that he cares. “If you look for positive things, you will always find them,” he says.
This motto has directed his approach throughout his career. He starts every meeting with three positives. He wants his students to know that he is on their side, no matter what—knowledge he considers vital.
“I’m in their corner. I’ll advocate for them, and I want them to be successful," he says. “I want them to think they are as cool as I think they are.” In a world where some students do not hear that message often, that vote of confidence from a teacher can make all the difference.
Stewart plans to retire within the upcoming year, he says: “I’m ready for new adventures.” Until then, he will continue to make a difference in the lives of those around him.
Writer: Bridget Quain
Contact: Andrew Deveys