Passion for teaching

2012 graduate with history and Spanish majors enjoys time in classroom

After graduating from South Dakota State in 2012, Tyler Fitz accepted an internship for Sen. John Thune’s Washington, D.C., office. As an intern in D.C., he worked with constituents, attended senate hearings, and most enjoyed giving tours of the U.S. Capitol where he was able to share America’s rich and complex history. After receiving an offer to remain in D.C., he ultimately decided to move back to South Dakota in 2013 and currently works as an advanced placement and Modern U.S. history instructor at Sioux Falls Roosevelt High School. During his first year of teaching, Fitz was awarded the Claes Nobel Teacher of Distinction Award in recognition for making a lasting impact in the classroom by encouraging students to strive for excellence. In summer 2014, he organized and led a group of 20 students from Roosevelt to Washington, D.C., and New York City. Most recently, he was nominated for the Teacher of the Year Award by Roosevelt’s school principal, teachers and students and won the Positive Impact Award in 2015.

What are you doing now, and what motivates you about your chosen field?

After graduation, I lived in the Foggy Bottom district on the campus of The George Washington University. I found myself in the heart of D.C. and only three blocks from the White House. I actually remember SDSU’s slogan “You can go anywhere from here” played in my head while running past the white marble steps of the Lincoln Memorial on a morning run. While living in D.C., I considered pursuing many different careers and opportunities. After getting off the subway from work one day, my roommate told me I received a letter from President Chicoine.

Fitz ’12 has been busy following graduation. Clockwise, from top, he organized a trip to Washington, D.C., for Sioux Falls Roosevelt High School students in 2014, served as an intern for Sen. John Thune, posed with students in periodic attire during one of his classes and stands in front of a board in his classroom. Fitz credits his time at State to make him a passionate and dedicated teacher.

Fitz ’12 has been busy following graduation. Clockwise, from top, he organized a trip to Washington, D.C., for Sioux Falls Roosevelt High School students in 2014, served as an intern for Sen. John Thune, posed with students in periodic attire during one of his classes and stands in front of a board in his classroom. Fitz credits his time at State to make him a passionate and dedicated teacher.

The congratulatory letter sat on my desk as a reminder that my journey as a Jackrabbit was far from over. I knew no matter what I ended up doing, I wanted to share what I learned at State with others.
As a teacher, I have the privilege of teaching so much of what I learned at SDSU. I work tirelessly to dispel the notion that high school history class is boring. There is nothing more rewarding than hearing students say they never want to miss my history class or that I am their favorite teacher. Being an educator, I am also motivated to continue to learn and try something new. I was recently involved in kickboxing and became a coach and instructor for a while. At home, I do some freelance graphic design work where I’ve helped design some T-shirts and logos. I also work part-time in sales at Combined Pool and Spa where I help customers with a wide range of products from hot tubs, billiard tables and patio furniture. This summer marks my sixth year with the company. I am also excited to complete my master’s degree in education this summer.

Who inspired you the most at SDSU and in what way?

When I was a freshman, I was unsure about my future. I had plans, but my heart was not in them. It was the passion of two South Dakota State professors who helped me identify who
I was and what I wanted to accomplish in life. Entering the field of education, I understand educators do not receive the praise or support they deserve, but the appreciation I have for these professors goes beyond any words or recognition I could give them. It is my pleasure to at the very least thank them for all they have taught me.

I met Dr. Charles “Chuck” Vollan my freshman year in American History 152, a survey class. I enjoyed history, but was only taking the class to fulfill my graduation requirements. It did not take long for his class to become my favorite, a class that I genuinely was excited to go to every day. Dr. Vollan’s passion for history is contagious. He didn’t just teach about history; he taught us how history was integral to understanding ourselves—who we were, who we are and who we will be. It was Dr. Vollan’s passion for teaching and history that led me to become a history major. By switching my major, he also became my academic advisor. During a particularly difficult time in my senior year, he was a headlight on a dark road. Over my four years at State, I found myself visiting his office to discuss history and life more and more.

By the time I graduated, I had taken almost every class he taught from The Civil War and Reconstruction to the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression.

Dr. Christi Garst-Santos was my Spanish professor my freshman year. She taught more than just the Spanish language. Dr. Garst-Santos has a deep knowledge of Spain’s history, culture and people. Her enthusiasm for Spain and Castilian Spanish made me never want to miss a class. During my senior year, I took her topics course on Miguel Cervantes’ Don Quijote. It was the way Dr. Garst-Santos facilitated the learning and discussion that made the 400-year-old novel so meaningful and relevant. Through her instruction, I learned the importance of understanding perspectives, appreciating individuality and most importantly, living a meaningful life with a few adventures along the way.

What have been some of your greatest accomplishments that you credit to having attended State?

I feel blessed to say that I have accomplished so much since I graduated. Graduating with honors and being nominated and admitted into two national honors societies, Phi Alpha Theta and Sigma Delta Pi, can be directly attributed to the incredible professors at State who made class so engaging and interesting.

Historical Methods and Historiography is a senior advanced writing course required for history majors. The primary focus of the class consists of learning research-based methods and the art of writing as a historian. In the class, Dr. Vollan encouraged me to use my great-grandfather’s diary that he wrote in every day during his service in World War II to analyze the impact of the war on an individual soldier. The reaction to the diary and the research I made were beyond anything I anticipated when I began the arduous, but rewarding, research process. I am working to have the diary and research published.

Personally, the most gratifying reward I receive is from my students. In the last two years, I have had students who have thanked me for changing their life. How many careers are there in the world where we can accomplish something so meaningful? I’ve heard stories of abuse, drugs and alcohol, pregnancy, depression and loneliness. Each of the students I can help means more to me than any award, honor or plaque that any other job could offer.

The greatest accomplishment that I credit to State is having many of my students tell me that they want to study history in college because they took my history class. It’s humbling to think I have become part of a cycle that all started when I was inspired by professors at SDSU. My goal now is to encourage my best students, the students who are passionate and caring individuals, to enter the field of education in order to make a difference. Passionate and dedicated teachers act as advocates to improve education in South Dakota.

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