Dr. DePriest: college professor turned high school English teacher

Photos by Evangeline Fox

By Olivia Falck

Dr. DePriest has been a teacher at Arundel High School for two years now, but when students realize she is a former college professor, they often become confused. Questions arise such as, “why on earth would you come back to teaching high schoolers?” and “but weren’t you making more money before?” The answer for DePriest has developed over many years, and pertains to not only just her career, but her lifestyle as well.

DePriest states that her personal high school experiences led her to want to teach high school. “I had teachers that I really loved. I could see how they made me connect with the world and made me a better person, and a better thinker, not just in the subject areas,” she said. Not knowing exactly what subject she wanted to teach going into college, she says, “as I took my courses there, I felt like English was the best way to actually be able to teach the stuff I cared about. And I love to read so…”

DePriest has experienced contrasts teaching at college as opposed to high school. Most notably, the academic and social enthusiasm, and the teacher-student relationships. In college, the students attending are more likely to be motivated to be there. DePriest describes this environment as, “high stakes and that everything matters.” She says this led to her having a much more engaged audience when teaching. However, where the academic enthusiasm in college picks up, the social enthusiasm lacks to that compared of high school. DePriest explained how the size of the campus and frequency of the classes she taught left little room for her to get to know her students. This disconnect from her students led her to feel like, “by the end of the semester when I was finally figuring out how to teach those kids well, they were done with me- they were off to the next class.”

Photo by Evangeline Fox

For Dr. DePriest, relationships with her students are a key aspect of who she is as a teacher. She describes them as both rewarding and helpful regarding her teaching style. She says she tailors her instruction to the kids she has in her class.  “Figuring out how to relate to them as a person, but also as their teacher is very important to me,” she said. DePriest even displays the relationships she has developed with her students above her desk, on a graduation wall. The ‘graduation wall’ is littered with her seniors that requested to have photos taken with her. Her “open-book-like nature” mostly invokes a positive response from those that she teaches (“So they tell me about the time they met Imagine Dragons”). She says she feels as though she connects with a lot of her students, but that, “I guess it would be up to them to decide.”

So what makes Arundel so special? Why come back from college to teaching at this high school specifically? Dr. DePriest points to her contentment with the environment here at Arundel, revealing how her favorite aspect of teaching here is the students. “You guys make me laugh so hard, and you bring your whole self to the classroom,” she said. The atmosphere surrounding this high school is also what draws DePriest to it- she says the diverse student body and the collective school spirit we share, for the most part, gives the students a sense of belonging. Whether it’s athletics, speech and debate, they have a big group of friends, or they’re in dance company; “The kids are mostly happy to be here- or at least not miserable. They feel like their teachers want them to be there too.”

Having lived in the county for 15 years, Dr. DePriest can confidently says that attending Arundel High School would give her two kids the education experience she wants them to have. She says having kids has also influenced her teaching style- showing her that in order for students to progress in their schooling, “you have to get them to want to do better, and see why you want them to be successful- or else they’re just following the rules and won’t care if they break them”. Dr. DePriest also says that forming connections with those that she teaches is notably the most important aspect of her work. She feels that as long as she is able to connect with students as people– and see each other as mutually committed to each individual’s growth– then she will be able to get them to move forward. “I didn’t have to come back. I could have done a lot of things, but because I like kids and I think you guys are important- I want you to feel important. I was like, ‘ok it’s time for me to go back’,” she said.