Q-and-A with Golden Apple Award winner Bill Morgan

By AIMEE HALL
neighborhoods@ColumbiaMissourian.com

Hickman English teacher and Golden Apple Award winner Bill Morgan is not your stereotypical bookworm.

Although Morgan, 40, loves English and books, his interests stretch far beyond these things.

As his twelfth year teaching at Hickman comes to a close, Morgan is getting ready to say goodbye to the students in his English 10 and English 10 honors classes.

He agreed to sit down with me and discuss what he loves about teaching, what he’s looking forward to about next year’s classes, and what he’s really doing when he is not in the classroom.Q. Did you always want to be an English teacher?

A. No. It’s the last thing I wanted to be. I don’t think I decided to be a teacher until I had been going to college off and on for five or six years, like lots of students trying to figure out what it was they want to be. I always liked English, and I always liked books, but I didn’t want to be a teacher.

Q. What made you change your mind and decide that teaching was what you wanted to do?

A. Probably because I did not like high school very much, and that’s to put it mildly. I think at some point, I thought that was kind of a good trait to have in some ways. … I thought, “Well, I’ll go see if I can do a better job” than some of the people I wasn’t so sure about.

Q. What do you love most about teaching?

A. The students. Even more than the subject sometimes. I think that sometimes teachers love their subject and not their students as much. … I laugh at (my friends’) jobs because it’s the same thing day after day. Mine may be annoying some days, but it’s funny and it’s energetic. You get to move around, talk, think and meet people.

Q. What has been your favorite novel, play, etc., that you’ve taught so far?

A. One of the great things about Hickman is that you get a lot of choice in what you teach. … My students make fun of me because everything I teach them, I say, “Oh, this is my favorite!” and they laugh at that, but it’s because we get to pick from things that we like. … I’ll teach people like Roberto Bolaño, a (Chilean) writer I love. You give them something where they think, “I’ve never read something like this before.” That’s probably the most enjoyable.

Q. Describe one of your favorite memories from teaching here at Hickman.

A. My students now are reading Don Quixote. It’s big, they carry it around, and it’s obvious. I was standing in the hall just a couple of days ago and one of my former students sees somebody reading the book and goes out of his way to come over and to tell the student he doesn’t even know how much they loved that book. It’s like a sales pitch that counts 10 times more than anything I could ever say. Even if they’ll tell me, “I hated every book and I didn’t read most of the books you taught, except for this one book,” that makes it great.

Q. How would you describe yourself as a teacher?

A. I try to be energetic and excited. I try to demonstrate thinking about things. The students laugh at me when they’re like, “Do you think about everything?” They try and throw me off in class by asking me questions that are unexpected. That’s probably my favorite part of teaching: interacting with the book, being confused with it, fighting with it and constantly thinking about everything — using the skills you’re learning in English class not just in English class but outside in the world.

Q. When you’re not teaching, what do you enjoy doing?

A. Travel. By getting excited about traveling to places, I read literature about some of those places and then bring in things that I have personal connections to because I’ve been there. And music: new stuff, old stuff, reggae, classic rock and indie. That just ties in one of the things I love to do: get everything out of the English classroom as much as possible. You can like English and still like music. You can like English and like to travel. They think you’re just a bookworm that just sits at the library and reads all the time.

Q. Do you have a talent or hobby that maybe a lot of people don’t know about?

A. I don’t think so. … I cooked for like 10 years in restaurants before I taught. I didn’t start teaching until I was 28. And again, they start to think you’re just an English teacher and then you bring up, “Oh yeah, I cooked in restaurants for 10 years” and things like that. They’re easy to surprise because they stereotype you so much.

Q. Looking back over your teaching career, what would you say has been your greatest accomplishment?

A. For me, and this is on a personal level, learning to balance family and teaching. I’ve got two kids that are 6 and 4. When I first started teaching, it’s easy to put in 80 or 90 hours a week since you love it, it’s exciting, and it’s a subject that you care about. When these other things start to crowd in, you have less time, you have to learn, “How do I try to be a good teacher and work a reasonable number of hours a week?” So, it’s been kind of a challenge. If I can teach 95 percent as well with 60 percent of the time, then that’s probably what I’m most proud of. And, just sticking around. There are so many teachers that leave the profession. I realized a couple of days ago that one of my students was going to turn 30. So, I’m proud of that.

Q. As this school year comes to a close, what are you looking forward to in the next school year with new incoming students?

A. The hard thing for me, every year, is right about now I almost want to quit thinking about this year and start thinking about changing things. I look at everything I did wrong. I don’t even want to work on the assignments I have to do for the rest of this year. I already want to say, “OK, next year, now, I know what to do.” So, it’s really this constant process of, “What can I do better? What did I learn this school year about my assignments, and how can I make them better for next year?” In some ways, I’ve already moved on to next year even though we have four weeks left.

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