By Robin Sauerwein
Mason Sullivan knew that teaching would be part of his life. Just not right away.
As a child, Mason spent a lot of time growing up in NE Minneapolis attending many of the Northeast schools like Pillsbury and playing youth hockey in the area. So the neighborhood was familiar territory to him when he accepted a teaching position at Northeast Middle School (NEMS).
This will be his sixth year at the school and he loves it.
Although he always thought he would go into teaching, he waited. He attended St. John’s University majoring in Communication and English Writing.
“I’ll come back to it when the time is right,” he told himself about teaching.
When an opportunity came up for him to work as a Special Education assistant in 2004, he took it.
He had no experience in Special Education.
“I fell in love with it,” he said.
Many students had autism which is the area he focuses on now at NEMS.
For Mason the joy of being a special education assistant was in the daily interaction with the students.
“It was the first job that when I woke up in the morning, I was excited to go to work.”
He knew he had found his passion.
“I was constantly being amazed at what the students were capable of. You might not notice if you didn’t take the time. That was really exciting to work with that population of students.”
He also discovered that although he didn’t have the experience, he did have important core skills like patience to teach in special education and that made him feel successful.
But Mason still did not go into the education field but remained in advertising, working in California and Minnesota.
In 2010, he decided it was time to go back to school at St. Mary’s earning an MA in Special Education.
Shortly after finishing student teaching at NEMS, a Special Education position opened up at the school.
Working in a middle school was exactly what Mason was looking for and after having been a student teacher at NEMS, he knew it was perfect.
“The stars were aligning,” he said.
With another new school year beginning at NEMS, Mason is just as excited as on his first day.
Although when the first day of the new school year approached, Mason admitted he was nervous. He worried about being prepared enough. But his worries soon disappeared once the kids arrived.
“They were all happy. And happy to see me. I remembered why I decided to be a teacher. It’s great.”
“Northeast Middle School is a fun place, an energetic place. A lot of learning happens. Every time I turn around there seems to be a new opportunity for our students,” he said.
NEMS has a wide variety of initiatives and hands-on programs for students like the International Baccalaureate program (IB), Spark-Y (Youth Action Labs), AVID, Project Success, TRIO, Beacons, The Community School Collaborative (mental health support services in the school) and more.
NEMS is also home to a variety of cultural backgrounds and is a reflection of the city’s diversity.
“I enjoy that. Not all schools in Minneapolis have that and that’s ok, but for me it’s a gift to get to know students from different cultural, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds,” he said.
“We have an awesome staff. I have always felt supported by my colleagues and the leadership. I feel valued and have freedom to problem solve,” he said.
Teachers really take the initiative to go above and beyond. One teacher held a fundraiser to install two basketball hoops outside the school for the students.
Mason said that staff always are looking to provide improvement in ways to help the students.
“I love our school.”
Mason decided to buy a house in Northeast and said, “I like the creativity and energy of Northeast. People seem to be more involved with their community.” He enjoys the local arts and music scene and being able to walk to local businesses.
Seeing his students out in the community is also a plus. “We’re more than just our student selves or teacher selves,” he said.
But today with pressure on teachers to do more than just teach students and with less time on their hands, teachers like Mason are more challenged than ever to find that work/life balance.
“It’s important for educators to practice self-care so they are there for their students,” he said.
“I love teaching enough that I will do it the rest of my professional career,” he said.
When he’s not teaching, Mason enjoys outdoor activities like bike riding, camping and hiking with his wife Hana.