A Note on Gratitude: Henry Whitehead

Through the help of a college professor and mentor, RSC Program Manager, Henry Whitehead, got started on his career in education.

November 20, 2023 |

Henry shares the story of his relationship with Dr. Christie Manning, a professor at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN. Christie helped Henry develop his love for education and has been an important personal and professional connection for RSC’s new program manager. Please join RSC this season in showing gratitude for important teachers in your lives.

Since joining the RSC team, I’ve been privileged to visit with a host of inspiring teachers from around the country. Included among those are professors, researchers, and higher education partners who both nurture future generations of teachers and do vital work to support public education. The travel to and from these partners has provided me with plenty of thinking time to reflect on my own journey to working in education, and like many in this field, I can trace my steps to this point to a single person. I am where I am today from the lessons, guidance, and mentorship of Dr. Christie Manning.

Dr. Christie Manning is an associate professor of Environmental Studies at Macalester College, where I completed my undergraduate degree. While she specializes in the psychology of environmental behaviors and attitudes, I took a course on classic works of the environmental movement with her. Her teaching style was unlike any other course I had ever experienced: each week, two different students would plan and lead the three hour class just about in its entirety, done with her guidance throughout the week. It was my first real exposure to student-centered learning in higher education, and this methodology was deeply appreciated by her students.

I was hooked enough to ask to be her teaching assistant for the next year's course, and despite some well-founded doubts she agreed. I found working with students directly to help craft their lessons more engaging and rewarding then my own coursework, and would look forward to my weekly prep meeting with Christie more than any class. I signed up to be a teaching assistant again for my senior year for a different class, and at that point the door to education as a future career had been firmly propped open.

The assistantship morphed into mentorship, as Christie began to frequently invite me over to her house for dinner with her family. For a college student away from home and going through the usual 21 year-old turbulence, these were a grounding force as I faced the unknown of graduation, work, and ‘real’ life ahead.

Flashing forward for a moment, prior to working for RSC I spent six years in very public-facing roles in environmental education. The most common question I would get asked was some variation of “what brought you to this kind of teaching?” Rather than bend the truth and give the classic answer that I always knew I wanted to work with kids or had a love of teaching from when I was a child, I would answer honestly: someone I trusted told me to. That’s it. You can probably guess who that person was.

While attending a field trip with her daughter to an environmental learning center, Christie broke away from the group to call me with news that she had found the place I was going to work. Not only that, but she had inquired and they had one job open, and here was the number of someone to talk to about the position. A few days later, which happened to be the morning of graduation, I had accepted the job, and was completing college with at least an answer in hand to the dreaded “what’s next” question.

An entry-level educator position fostered a passion, which became the first stage of my career focusing on teacher development. Long after graduation, Christie was the person I would seek for advice, ranging from course design to navigating broader trends in education that we were both grappling with. She would send me graduates for my teacher-training program, vetted and endorsed by her, and I would return to my alma mater to give career advice to her students. Mentorship continued, but reciprocal friendship also blossomed.

I’ve gone into this level of detail to illustrate a very basic point: Christie cared about me, and cares about her students, to a depth and breadth uncommon amongst even caring and engaged educators. She redefines above and beyond, working equally hard to help a freshman struggling in a 101 course as she would for a long-graduated former student needing career guidance. She leads and mentors through questions, listening, and measured advice. I’m far from the only one to benefit from her caring ways, and she is far from the only educator to touch dozens of students in this way. All who have studied under Christie, or their own Christie, have a gratitude that is unique to their relationship with that educator.

We all have an educator in our lives who went the extra mile for us, who set us on the right path, and who empowered us to find our own person. In rural settings, where there may simply be numerically fewer role models or professional resources available, those educators are all the more vital. While teaching in one of Minnesota’s rural counties, my relationship with Christie was essential for my professional development and general feeling of being supported in a potentially isolating context.

During this season to be thankful, I encourage you to reach out to a teacher who impacted your life.

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