Sisters childhood inspired a teaching career
Last updated 3/30/2021 at Noon
MJ Schulte graduated from Sisters High School 10 years ago. Now she’s a teacher at Rosland Elementary School in La Pine. Her passion for teaching and helping young people fuels her efforts to impact their lives in a positive way. She knows having supportive and understanding adults in a young person’s life can help them through all kinds of hardship.
“A large reason why I’m where I am today is because I grew up in Sisters,” she told The Nugget. “From becoming a teacher, the things I enjoy doing, and the person I ended up marrying — everything in my life is from growing up in Sisters,” said Schulte.
Her desire to teach started in high school.
“Daniel O’Neill took me under his wing,” she said. “I was inspired by the way he taught and made me feel as a student. Because of him, I knew I wanted to be a high school math teacher.”
Schulte’s journey to becoming a teacher had some sideroads and adjustments.
“I went to the University of Oregon as a math major, which I now see as a bold move on my part,” said Schulte at her home in Bend. Her freshman year, she decided the major wasn’t a good fit.
“Being a math major, there’s no studying in education, it’s just all math classes. So I switched to journalism, thinking I could write about the outdoors and be a photo journalist. I worked for the Register Guard in Eugene after doing an internship with them.”
Schulte couldn’t pay the bills with just her new job, so she also worked as a part-time bartender. Over that six-month period, she was having some personal struggles, and also began feeling that journalism wasn’t a healthy lifestyle for her.
She chose to leave her job and move in with her parents in Bend.
“I got myself healthy and, in that time, realized that teaching could be my way to serve.” Schulte got a job at Bear Creek Elementary School as an educational assistant teaching math groups. “I still love that school and that community. I applied for the master’s program at OSU Cascades and did that the next year, and now here I am.”
This is Schulte’s third year teaching in La Pine and the first year she truly felt like, “Yeah, I can do this for a long time.” She started out in second grade and followed her class into third grade.
“The first two years were really hard, with a challenging population,” she said. “I love working with kids that need me not only academically, but also on a human, personal, and physical level. They need access to food every day, clean clothes, and so many other things out of their reach. I have really enjoyed that.”
Those first few years, Schulte says she often came home and cried.
“I told my husband, Evan, that I needed to get a new job.”
Last year, Schulte had to adjust to teaching remotely.
Schulte is glad her students are back in the classroom. Some of her students weren’t able to join class remotely, and missed a lot of school. Now they’re back, and she’s helping them catch up to their peers. Learning how to manage and meet her students’ individual needs required having trusting relationships with students who often experience trauma.
“I feel like I’ve turned the corner,” she said. “My classroom management is better and I’m enjoying it a lot more.”
She’s found a way to support students as individuals while meeting the needs of the rest of the class.
“That’s been the biggest challenge,” Schulte said. “What helped me the most was building relationships with those students, including my hardest kids. I love them and would do anything for them. Those kids need us. This year I have a full-time teaching partner which is much appreciated and helps a lot.”
Schulte competed in multiple sports while in Sisters, including volleyball. Now, she’s coaching in the sport.
“Coaching has been a whirlwind and I love it,” she said. “This year’s been crazy. Usually volleyball is a fall sport, so normally, I would have been done with it now. Because of the pandemic, here I am going into spring break with volleyball games. It’s really fun working with the girls. But it makes for long, 14-hour days with my commute to Bend. When I get there and I’m in the game, I’m so into it and I know this is what I’m supposed to do. It’s exhausting but I love it. COVID has made all of it such a rollercoaster.”
Working with high school girls, Schulte’s heart knows some of the pain they’re going through.
“I went through several years with an eating disorder in college and after college,” she said. “That’s what really brought me back to teaching, I want to empower anyone, especially teenaged girls and boys, who can be so susceptible to societal pressures and social media. It’s heartbreaking.”
Recently, Schulte opened up about her eating disorder on Instagram.
“I’m beginning to feel comfortable talking about it publicly,” she said. “By sharing my story, and how I feel about my relationship with food and exercise, maybe that will help someone. I was in Traders Joe’s and took a picture of the words ‘reduced guilt’ written on a bag of chips. I wonder why we have to relate guilt to any food? I have a totally different view and philosophy on that now. I wish I’d had information when I was going through it. I didn’t hear anyone talking about it and it felt like there was no one I could relate to. It was very isolating and it shouldn’t be.”
For those looking for support for an eating disorder, Schulte suggests visiting the website http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org.
Schulte says it’s heartbreaking to see the emotional toll that can be seen in some kids. She wants to help them build resiliency, so they can move through their challenges and thrive.
“I push them to help them. I’m not a soft teacher, and hold a hard line with my kids,” she said. “I have a lot of structure in my classroom. I know it works, and they need that. I’m seeing good results. We have to meet them where they are.
“I wish we could have more mental-health support in the schools. I hope in the next five years we’ll see that happen. It would have such a positive impact. I don’t physically have the time to be a nurse, counselor, and janitor, while also teaching the rest of the class.”
Maintaining a work/life balance is important to Schulte and her husband, Evan Samuelson, who is a phlebotomist and is in nursing school. They love running with their dog, River, and exploring the back country whenever they can.
One of Schulte’s favorite achievements happened last summer. They ran the 50-mile loop around the Three Sisters. Schulte admits, it was very hard.
“The whole time I was thinking about the high school IEE program and when we hiked all around the area,” she said. “At the time it was the hardest thing I’d ever done, and there I was running around the whole loop feeling so strong. We started at Green Lakes trailhead at 3:30 a.m. so we wouldn’t be in the dark at the tail end of it. Evan saw a cougar’s eyes in the dark about a mile in. Thank goodness he didn’t tell me he saw it until we were a few miles farther and it was light. If he’d told me at the time, I know I would have lost it!
“It felt so cool to go back to the places where I was first introduced to hiking and backpacking,” she said. “Now I live here and it’s my home. I have so much more of an appreciation than I ever did. I took it for granted. This place has everything we love.”