Bulldog Bites

News and Views from the University of Redlands

Finding life’s purpose in teaching

Steven Barkdoll '06, '13 (right) hikes the Inca trail to Machu Picchu with his mother, Susan Barkdoll. Both are teachers.

As a world traveler, it makes sense that Steven Barkdoll ’06, ’13 followed a winding path to becoming a teacher.

At first, Barkdoll, who grew up in Lake Arrowhead, never really thought about leaving Southern California. He enjoyed the weather, worked at Disneyland, and received his associate’s degree in psychology from Crafton Hills Community College. At Crafton, his interest in traveling was piqued by a classmate, and he spent a semester at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. While he enjoyed living in a new country, he didn’t like how impersonal his classes were. “They were held in auditorium-sized rooms with hundreds of students and IMAX screens so we could see what the professor was writing down.”

After he returned to the U.S. and earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from California State University of San Bernardino, he attended the University of Redlands for his Multiple Subject Teaching Credential. Barkdoll chose teaching because of his mother, a third-grade teacher: “I always knew my mom loved her job and found her life’s purpose in it,” he says. “Me, I turned to teaching to find a passion in my own life so that I can give that passion to the future leaders of tomorrow.”

At Redlands, he appreciated the small class sizes and the personal support. “I love Redlands because [the administration] answers emails, I know which classes are offered on which days, and in what order.”

At the time, Barkdoll was substitute-teaching in a San Bernardino school and had misgivings about his chosen career. Having a U of R cohort filled with people who were passionate about teaching helped focus him: “I felt supported by my classmates and faculty, who knew what kind of nurturing I needed to become more seasoned—and less panicky.”

With his new skills, Barkdoll chose to join the Peace Corps, where he taught English to elementary school students in a rural mountain village called Pehčevo. He spent 27 months in Macedonia: It was “one of the best parts of my life that I would never want to do again.”

Upon his return to America, Barkdoll once again enrolled in the University of Redlands, this time to earn his M.A. in education, focusing on curriculum, instruction, and language acquisition. 

His appetite for experiencing the world had not yet been quenched, though, and after earning his master’s from the U of R, he chose to teach in international schools around the world, including in Spain, Indonesia, and Brazil. As part of his journey, he summited Kilimanjaro and hiked the Inca Trail. Today, he is fluent in Macedonian, Maleshevski (a Macedonian dialect), Spanish, Bahasa, and Portuguese. According to Barkdoll, teaching around the world challenged him to overcome cultural differences and strengthened his empathy and compassion in the classroom: “That experience made me want to understand other world cultures and how best to reach those students.”

After he got married and had a son two years ago, Barkdoll moved back to the U.S. with his family. Today, he works at the Atlanta International School teaching 4th grade in an English/Mandarin classroom, where he’s also the yearbook coordinator and basketball coach. 

Teaching this pandemic year has been challenging, he says: “I’m teaching in-person and virtually at the same time—it’s teaching two classes at once.”

Still, he says, he enjoys teaching both as a career (“It’s a joy to learn, and it’s a joy to be challenged.”) and as a way to find your life’s purpose. “You won’t know what your passions are until you see other people teach it with the same enthusiasm that you do,” he says.

To future teachers, Barkdoll says: “You have to find out what makes you excited to share. Sometimes it’s not in your backyard. If you’re willing, you should get out in the unknown and see how amazing this world is.”

Learn more about the School of Education.