‘Passion and Perseverance’: How Alicia Finally Realized Her Dream of Teaching

It was as early as the third grade that Alicia Upton’s dream of becoming a teacher was ignited.

Alicia was shy as a child, and it was her teacher, Mrs. Williams, who broke her out of her shell and gave her the confidence she needed to succeed in school. Alicia, of Mayfield, Kentucky, credits her teacher with reinforcing the importance of learning and changing her entire outlook on education, becoming the inspiration behind her choice to help other kids succeed.

Alicia recalls telling Mrs. Williams that she would be a teacher one day. Mrs. Williams had given her a book on the last day of school that contained a special note saying she believed in Alicia’s abilities and encouraged her to follow her dreams to become a teacher one day. Although it took her a while to achieve that dream, she never let her dream fade.

Forced to work full time immediately after high school, Alicia decided that a traditional college experience would not be plausible. She concluded that college was not right for her as it hadn’t been for the rest of her family and took a different path. She became a kitchen design specialist at a home improvement store. They didn’t require a degree and provided on-site training, which allowed Alicia to become the best designer she could be. She found success becoming a trainer and the top sales specialist in her store and district on several occasions. The success she found in design pushed her dream of becoming a teacher aside, and she decided design would be good enough.

But then, while rocking her baby to sleep one night, Alicia found herself dreaming about her son’s future and what he might become.

“It dawned on me how hypocritical it would be to expect him to chase his dreams when I gave up on mine long ago,” Alicia said. Despite her recent accomplishments at her design job, Alicia had a desire to go back to school and complete her degree. She continued to work full time and enrolled at WGU after discovering the university’s online teaching license and degree programs, realizing she could do both school and work at the same time. With a varying work schedule and the need to be around for her son and husband, WGU allowed her to complete her schoolwork on her own time.

Having grown up avoiding help from others—sometimes out of embarrassment and other times because she could solve problems on her own—Alicia at first fought against asking for help from her course mentor while studying math. But in the end, she gave up the fight—and is grateful she did. Alicia relied heavily on her course mentor, who spent time helping her master the material. “Andrew worked with me like three nights a week and helped me with each and every concept. He was an angel because I was as lost as a camouflaged Easter egg.”

Although she faced many personal battles and delays in school that could have caused her to give up on her teaching dream, Alicia stayed focused on her family and completing her degree. “I would not have been able to get back on track if it weren’t for my WGU hero, my student mentor,” Alicia explained. “She helped me refocus and get back on track. She helped me to budget my time and schedule so I could work, do my course work, and see my kiddos.” She credits her mentor’s constant encouragement for helping her complete her degree.

With a newfound sense of empowerment, Alicia hopes to encourage her own children and students to complete their education, no matter what challenges get in the way. “If I can do it, anyone can do it. I can now teach hundreds of students that same philosophy. Perseverance and passion will get you anywhere you can imagine! I am proof that you don’t have to settle for good enough, but you can dream for the impossible and reach your full potential. If you can dream it, you can achieve it!”

That same passion and dedication Alicia used to get her degree will soon be used as she begins her new career in the Teach for America Corps. She recently accepted a position in Oklahoma to fight the fight against educational inequality.

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