In a room full of strangers during her first week at Arizona State University, Aimee Yates quickly calculated the answer to a hefty request from her new professor: share a secret.
After quitting her job of 12 years at a local grocery store, Ms. Yates was partaking in a team-building exercise at weekend class for future educators.
“What the heck,” Ms. Yates thought to herself as classmates tossed a ball of yarn from student to student sharing intimate memories and feelings.
“I’m either going to sink or swim in college — I might as well tell somebody — you know, we’re all swearing that no one’s going to say a word. I’m going to say it,” Ms. Yates thought to herself.
“So then I told everybody that I didn’t think I was a smart person, and I carried this all the way through school.”
Years later, Ms. Yates is celebrating the end of her fifth year as an early education teacher in the Scottsdale Unified School District and is a recipient of the 2017 Charro Foundation Education Scholarship.
After getting injured while working in a management position at a grocery store, Ms. Yates returned to her life-long desire to go to college.
“I had always wanted to go back to school but I didn’t think I was smart enough to go to college,” Ms. Yates explained in a March 29 phone interview. “I was held back when I was a child.”
The fears of being a good student stem back to Ms. Yates’s elementary school when uncontrollable circumstances resulted in her class not receiving a proper first grade education.
“It was nothing of my doing — we just didn’t learn the foundation of first grade,” she said.
When she was put into second grade at a new school, it quickly became apparent she wasn’t at the level she should be.
“I kind of carried this cloud above my head that I wasn’t a smart kid. I carried it through elementary, middle and high school,” she said. “I didn’t know what the story was — I thought it was my fault.”
After graduating high school and not succeeding at college the first time, Ms. Yates shied away from furthering her education until receiving support from her brother who had also returned to college.
“My brother had gone back to school late in life and he kept telling me how much support he received,” she said.
“’It’s way different and nobody cares,’ he told me. I thought OK, maybe I can do it.”
A fresh start
After taking one computer class, Ms. Yates who was in her early 30s, quit her job and enrolled full time at Arizona State University.
She was immediately inspired by one of her professors and peers after being encouraged to sign up for a weekend class.
The professor begins the class with a community-builder where a ball of yarn is thrown from person to person, and each time the catcher “tells a secret that nobody knows.”
“So I told everybody that I didn’t think I was a smart person and I carried this all the way through school, and I didn’t know if I was going to make it through college or not,” Ms. Yates recalled.
“I was crying, the class was crying — afterwards my professor came up to me and said ‘that was the best thing that you could have ever said, that’s what’s going to make you a great teacher.’”
She went on to take another class taught by the same professor. That professor encouraged her to write her story down.
“He wanted two pages, and I wrote 10,” she said. “I cried all the way through it, and I e-mailed my paper to my mom, my best friends, my brother.”
Ms. Yates detailed her fears of not being smart enough to be who she truly wanted to be: a teacher, just like her mother.
“I don’t want some kid to fall through the cracks and feel this way for the rest of their life,” she explained. “Because it really effected the course of my life — I chose different things, and different jobs.”
In 2012, Ms. Yates graduated from ASU as a straight-A student, and Summa Cum Laude.
Going for Fold
Now a second-grade teacher at Hohokam Traditional School, Ms. Yates, applied for the Charros scholarship for the second time after not winning a few years ago.
“I thought I’ll try one more time for it,” Ms. Yates.
She was required to write two essays — one on career goals and the other on academic goals.
“My professional goal is to go to college and get my master’s degree, and then learn everything I need to learn to become a principal,” she said.
Upon becoming a teacher, Ms. Yates says she has quickly learned how the world of educational leadership is much more complex than it appears to outsiders.
“I’ve always felt like this is the direction I wanted to go,” she says. “I took an educational leadership course through our district last year. It really, really jumped started me to want to go back and get my master’s.”
–By Melissa Fittro