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Phoenix Forward

Courage to change his life leads Arizonan to teaching

Standing on a baseball field in Las Vegas, Andy Townsend knew he needed to change paths. In his late 20s and working as a successful salesman, the University of Phoenix alum realized he was happiest not when he was closing the deal but when he was interacting with children.

In his role as a volunteer coach, Townsend says he found great joy in seeing his players overcome their fears and learn new plays.

“I had been thinking about it over a series of days and weeks,” Townsend says. “That day on the field, it was just very clear to me.”

Mentoring children was something he wanted to be more than an activity that filled up the hours of his free time. He needed it to be something that was a part of his everyday—a way of life. “I’m grateful I was able to recognize that,” he says.

As he reflected on a career that would energize and motivate him, the field of education quickly surfaced.

Moving toward a calling

Andy Townsend

Shortly thereafter Townsend took the steps to move his life in a new direction.

He started out small. He moved to Tucson, Ariz. and began volunteering at a local school, helping to plant a garden. Then he progressed to leading physical education activities. Re-energized by his work at the school, he began the process of becoming a substitute teacher.

Townsend thrived in the classroom, feeling as though he’d found a home. Through a fluke circumstance, he became a long-term substitute and was encouraged by his principal to seek his teaching certification. “She pointed out that I wouldn’t be able to have my own full-time classroom until I was a certified teacher.”

His principal suggested he enroll in the University of Phoenix’s Master of Arts in Elementary Education program, which allowed him to prepare for his certification while earning a master’s degree. While he finished the program, he was granted emergency certification.

“At University of Phoenix, there were great people there who supported me. But really the beauty of my education was that I was having these wonderful experiences in the classroom Monday through Friday. And on Saturdays, I was learning from other people in similar situations and we could problem-solve together.”

Because many of his classmates were also working in local schools, “we were able to share stories about things that weren’t working well and support each other. Our instructors were then able to explain to us why the things we were trying weren’t working in the classroom.”

Driving excellence in the classroom

Townsend has been an elementary school teacher for the past seven years, spending five of those years as a fifth-grade teacher at Elvira Elementary School.

The school, located in a low-income area of South Tucson, has a sense of community. Townsend has forged relationships with his students as well as their parents and siblings. And with the middle school his students feed into just a short distance away, Townsend is able to keep tabs on his students once they leave Elvira.

“He holds parents accountable. If a child is absent, he calls their parents to find out why and he’ll make home visits if necessary. His class consistently has 98 to 100 percent attendance,” says Elvira Principal Tom Hubbard. “Parents know he cares about the success of their children. How do you not respect that as a parent?”

Not only has Townsend helped to keep parents accountable, Hubbard says, but Townsend’s results-driven teaching style has also helped to raise the performance levels of teachers and students at the school.

“Andy is such a quality educator,” Hubbard says. “He’s competitive, driven and compassionate. There’s no doubt that Andy loves his students. He’s shown us that through deliberate planning, and high expectations, coupled with quality teaching, kids perform at higher levels.”

Townsend says using differentiated instruction is key because it allows him to use a variety of teaching methods to engage his students, no matter their learning style.

Townsend’s passion isn’t going unnoticed. It’s reflected in the accolades he’s received from being named a 2010 Rodel Exemplary Teacher to a 2011 Ambassador of Excellence from the Arizona Educational Foundation. He also holds a Master of Education in Educational Leadership.

“When I decided to put the brakes on sales and change directions on my life, it was the best decision I’ve ever made. I love the last seven years. When I walk into my classroom, I feel like I’m home.”

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