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Andrew Morris MAT'12Andrew Morris MAT'12

Morris volunteered to clean up debris in Japan after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.Morris volunteered to clean up debris in Japan after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Teaching Graduates

Andrew Morris is one of 86 students who will earn degrees in June from Willamette’s Graduate School of Education — 79 will earn their master of arts in teaching and seven will receive their master of education.

Read about all the teaching graduates in the 2012 Guide to Degree Candidates.

Teaching grad turns global experiences into lessons for his students

For young children, “the world” is often small in scale — their neighborhood, their school, their town. Andrew Morris MAT’12 wants them to think a bit bigger.

“Being able to have a global outlook from an early age, to look outside your local area and see how you fit into the world as a whole, is so beneficial,” Morris says.

It worked for him. He developed a passion for Japanese culture in middle school when several exchange students from Japan stayed with his family. That passion eventually led him to major in Asian studies in college and spend four years teaching and volunteering in Japan.

As he finishes his master of arts in teaching degree at Willamette University and prepares to start his teaching career, Morris plans to capitalize on his international experiences — and inspire another generation to think globally.

“I want to broaden my students’ horizons,” he says, “to help them look beyond the numbers and statistics they might read in a textbook and see how issues in other parts of the world are connected to their lives here.”

Witness to a tragedy

Several years after finishing his bachelor’s degree at Vassar College, Morris headed to Nagasaki through the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme.

“I went home exhausted every day, but I felt like what I was doing had meaning and made a difference,” he says. “It confirmed the idea that I wanted to continue teaching.”

He decided to return to the U.S. to earn his MAT at Willamette. But before he left, a life-changing event hit Japan: the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

The disaster and following recovery consumed everyday life in Japan, and Morris knew he couldn’t leave without finding a way to help. He headed to the northern coast to help families rebuild their lives.

As he cleaned up debris, dug drainage ditches and cleared mud out of houses, he also heard the life and death stories of the local people.

“Talking to them helped me see the disaster as much more than the statistics and images in the media,” he says. “It helped me remember that these were real people whose lives had been disrupted.”

He brought vivid stories and hundreds of images back with him to the U.S. — keepsakes he has already used as a student teacher to introduce international issues to elementary-schoolers.

Lessons for the teacher

Morris said he chose to pursue his MAT at Willamette’s Graduate School of Education because of the school’s solid reputation among teachers in the field.

“I like that Willamette’s focus is student-centered,” he says. “They encourage you to think outside the box curriculum-wise, by focusing on critical thinking instead of only on test scores.”

He continued pursuing his passion for Asia by conducting one of his student-teaching positions at Sheridan Japanese School, a local charter school that focuses on Japanese language and culture. He also taught in a fourth-grade classroom in nearby Keizer.

His ultimate goal is to teach social studies or language arts to middle-schoolers — subjects that would allow him to best share his global perspectives.

“My student teaching positions during my time at Willamette taught me that there is a lot more to being a teacher than the lessons you put together,” he says. “Much of it is driven by the personal connection you have with your students. You’re their mentor, doctor, counselor, mediator. It’s a lot to take on, but it’s very satisfying.”