David Shepherd is about to start his 27th year teaching at Neighbors’ Educational Opportunities High School and Adult Education in Portage. A late bloomer, Shepherd decided that he wanted to change directions in life after obtaining an initial degree.
“I went back to college a second time after getting a degree years ago,” said Shepherd. “I decided that I wanted a new direction in my life. I was a graduate of Purdue University in West Lafayette where I pursued agronomy. I thought that I might work in turf management and manage sports fields.”
Shortly after graduating, Shepherd realized that he wanted to go in a different direction. He began substitute teaching during the interim which led him to going back to college at then Purdue University Calumet, now Purdue University Northwest.
“From substitute teaching experience, I decided teaching would be my new profession,” said Shepherd. “At the age of about 29, I went back to college at Purdue Calumet and went through their certification program. I had every expectation that I would be an elementary school teacher.
Not long after he graduated from Purdue Calumet, Shepherd would receive a call that gave him his current job.
“One day in 1997, not long after I graduated, I received a phone call from a person I had never heard of and I didn't know,” said Shepherd. “They wanted to know if I could come in for an interview at a place called Portage Adult Education. I was curious as to how that came about and how the person even got my name, since I've never heard of Portage Adult Education. It turns out my teaching instructor during my in-class experience pointed out that I was available. She knew the assistant director at the time of Portage Adult Education, and they were in desperate need of several new teachers. They wanted to know if she had any prospects in the pipeline who had gone through the teaching program, and so she put forth my name and my information. I went in for an interview, and I said yes.”
His teaching instructor, Sally Gorski, was one of the influential people who helped Shepherd become who he is. His high school math teacher Anita Stark and fifth grade teacher Richard Riba were Shepherd’s other biggest teaching influences.
“Riba was the first male teacher I had, and his way of working with kids in the classroom was something that really drew me in,” said Shepherd. “I loved his style, and I stayed friends with him into adulthood. He knew I became a teacher, and we even collaborated on a small scale project a few years into my teaching career. Another teacher who was influential was my high school math teacher, Anita Stark. I have communicated with Mrs. Stark in the last few years. I wrote her a letter to explain that she had really helped develop my math skills and that I was very appreciative of that in my teaching career.”
Shepherd is now an adult basic education (ABE) teacher who typically helps a student prepare for the high school equivalency exam. It can also be a student who wants to prepare for a college entrance exam. What helps motivate him is his ability to help his students no matter their reason.
“I found that my niche in life is something that makes a difference in the world,” said Shepherd. “Teaching has been it, and the responses I've gotten from my students have sometimes been overwhelming. I realized the impact that I have had in some cases in their lives and how appreciative they are. That stokes my passion for teaching and for connecting with people. I often say you go nowhere if you don't build a relationship with the student; they have to know you care before you can help them learn.”
For Shepherd, his passion for teaching and building relationships is not limited to just when he is on the clock. He will help students even when he is not scheduled.
“My enthusiasm knows no bounds,” said Shepherd. “I am not bound to the clock or contract, so I've also given my phone number out to students.”
In his free time, Shepherd likes to jump rope, walk, and read.