Wednesday, October 04, 2023

Excellence in averageness

by SAMMY BERRYMAN / Contributing Writer
| May 28, 2023 1:00 AM

Earlier this year, Will Love and the Sandpoint High School girls basketball team brought home the first-ever state championship for the Bulldogs.

Now, just a few months later, Love is being honored once again for his excellence — this time it’s in the classroom.

In February, Love got an email from Grinnell College, letting him know he was the recipient of an honorary doctorate in social studies. After accepting, he traveled 1,500 miles to Iowa to give a commencement speech. At first, Love told Grinnell's 2023 graduates that he thought the email was spam. He then realized the award was real and that a former student, Tara Rawlings, had nominated him; scrutiny turned into panic, which turned into a quiet confidence.

“I am so appreciative of Tara and honored that she would nominate me for something like this,” Love said. “Tara made me a better teacher, and I’m so proud of her.”

Love, an SHS graduate himself, taught Rawlings in several classes, such as journalism and photography. She was also on the Cedar Post staff, an award-winning, student-run school newspaper. Though they had not kept in touch since Rawlings graduated and went off to pursue a degree from Grinnell College, Love clearly had a lingering influence.

“It was awesome to see the impact Tara has had at Grinnell,” Love said. “She was involved with several aspects of the college and community, including as a substitute teacher this spring. All the professors and staff she’s been around at Grinnell that we met talked about how great a person she is.”

One can’t help but draw similarities between Rawlings, Love and the impact they’ve both had on their respective schools and communities. But how did Love become the inspirational educator he is today?

After graduating from SHS, Love jumped around between majors in college at the University of Idaho and, later, Boise State. Like so many of us who are unaware of who we’re supposed to be or in what area to declare our interests, he didn’t have a plan.

“I was a history major for a while, and then I considered business,” Love said. “But I had the easiest time in English classes — probably because my mom and aunt were English teachers — so after taking a year off from college, I transferred from the University of Idaho to Boise State and changed my major to English Literature.” 

Love stuck to it and eventually graduated with an English Lit degree from Boise State. After college, he took a general assignment reporter position at The Newport Miner, then worked as a sports reporter in the Treasure Valley before returning home to teach at SHS.

Fourteen years later, Love continues to teach Bulldogs in many ways. He’s the journalism technology teacher, Cedar Post adviser, girls state championship-winning basketball coach and, now, an award-winning honoree of Grinnell College.

During his commencement speech at Grinnell, he focused on the impact of recognizing his “averageness” and the growth it’s allowed him to have.

“It’s enriched several areas of my life that are harder to quantify than with the analytics often associated with success,” Love said during his speech. “It thrills me every day knowing that I have room to improve as an educator, improve as a basketball coach, as a husband to my wife Debbie, a friend to the people I know and as a good person to others I come across.”

Early on in the classroom, Love says he tried to be what he thought a teacher was supposed to be. After some great advice from wife Debbie, he re-shaped his approach to his role as an educator.

“I’m learning something new every day, but essentially I see myself as a facilitator both as a teacher and coach,” Love said. “I want to create environments where students are in authentic learning situations and they have some control or say in what they are doing.”

A major example of this can be seen in the Cedar Post class, which is dedicated to creating the school newspaper.

“In a situation like the Cedar Post class, there are so many ways students can learn, be it writing articles, designing pages, making photos, producing videos or being a leader, to name a few,” Love said. “Knowing that each student wants something different out of the class, we try to create a role on staff that will allow them to pursue their interests while producing top-notch media.”

As I sit here reminiscing on the many positive ways Love has impacted my life in the short time I’ve known him, I can’t help but think how lucky the Bulldog students are to have this self-proclaimed average teacher. A mentor to many, including Rawlings, who nominated him for this award without his knowledge, and her sister Molly who is currently in Love’s class.

The best mentors often have mentors of their own — steady influences throughout life who act as guides during our self-discovery. For Love, these mentors include his parents and 2022 North Idaho Athletic Hall of Fame inductee Duane Ward.

“I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of mentors in my life, including my parents. They’ve influenced me in so many ways, from my career choices to the responsibility I feel in giving back to the community of Sandpoint,” Love said. “Duane Ward has also been a great mentor to me the last decade. I’ve learned so much from him that I use every day.”

Ward graduated from Sandpoint High School in 1961 and lettered in football, basketball, and track and field. He returned to SHS as a teacher and coach in 1966 and played an instrumental part in athletics through coaching, directing, and adding sports such as baseball, soccer, and cross country to the school's roster.

“I was fortunate to connect with Duane when I did because he has taught me so much about enjoying life and how to be a successful coach and educator,” Love said.

Although Love said he won't be teaching social studies anytime soon, there's no doubt that more success will be seen from students who under his guidance.

“Maximizing my averageness so I can be the best person I can is something that drives me each day,” Love said, “Excellence and success is often the product of meaningful relationships, so that’s where I try to start.”

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