In the time and place we live in, people tend to follow lifestyle trends. Most people go to college, get a degree, and work in one job or field their whole lives until retirement. But for BHS teacher Amy Sparks, that is not the case.
We’ve all heard of the celebrities who have multiple careers. Elon Musk owns Tesla, dug a tunnel under LA, sold flamethrowers, and shot a car into space. Kylie Jenner models, sells makeup, and turned her social media following into a billion-dollar consumer base. But for an everyday person, how is this possible?
For Sparks, it took a start in business to launch her teaching career.
“When I was 23 I opened a coffee house in my hometown of Annandale.” Sparks said, “At the time I was single, pregnant with my son, and living in my mom’s basement. I called the coffee house ‘In Hot Water’, which is an expression that means ‘in trouble’, because I felt a little bit overwhelmed with my new experience.”
After owning the coffee house for three years, Sparks decided to sell it to her mom. It is still in business and is almost 19 years old. Having studied film and theater in college, Sparks began making memorial videos for families after losing a loved one.
“I really got heavily into editing, and interviewing people about their loved ones and their stories.” Sparks said. “My husband said ‘I think we have a business out of this, I think we should do this’, and we decided to not do funerals, because the turnaround has to happen so fast with making the videos because it’s a lot of pressure. We decided instead to do event videos and photography. For ten years I was a film editor for small events we were going to.”
After the housing market crash in 2008, the market for film got smaller. This forced Sparks to have to sell her business once again. After securing a last minute position teaching English at BHS, Sparks was ready to begin another career.
“I taught one section of 10th grade English, and I was obsessed with being the perfect teacher.” Sparks said. “I was in Mrs. Tierney’s room and new teachers cry a lot, so Mrs. Tierney heard me cry a lot, but we got to be really good friends. When she was supposed to leave to deliver her baby, Mr. Mischke approached me and said “I’d like to give you this long term sub job for Mrs. Tierney’. It was probably a good thing I could no longer focus on just one class, because there’s no such thing as a perfect teacher.”
Quickly, Sparks dove into the role of teacher. In time, she would teach 10th grade English, American literature, women’s literature, and stage acting. The position as English teacher came fast, and giving her little time to feel like a “new teacher”. However, the trial-by-fire was met with determination and readiness, as Sparks already had years behind her to prepare her for the newfound career.
“I was 38 years old, and most people are starting in their twenties. So for me, I had run two businesses already, and I had children, and I had subbed in classes, and I had been working with students since 1997 as a director. I was probably not the normal of what you think of when you think of a brand new teacher.”
While teaching at BHS, Sparks began working with library, doing what she could to renovate for the students. Using the money that would have gone toward the book security system, Sparks turned the media center into the BHS Learning Commons.
“I feel like sometimes I haven’t changed enough and want to change more.” Sparks said. “There were shelves everywhere, full of weird stuff. There was a security system when you walked in and I thought ‘If you ARE going to steal something, steal a book, pass it on.’ I think it sent a message of ‘we don’t trust you’ and I didn’t want that.”
Sparks also changed the way students use the library, making it into a resource more than just a place to go.
“I really hope we can do more with getting the peer coaching going, where students are using each other as resources.” Sparks said. “I just want it to be more of a place where there’s a lot going on all the time, and students know that ‘if I need something, I’m gonna go to the library’.”
To many people, this busy of a life can seem very overwhelming. But Amy Sparks summarized it in one sentence: “There’s nothing I do that I don’t care about”.