Many teachers go into education with the hopes of molding and influencing young lives. Many who become teachers are inspired to enter this profession for that very reason: they are lucky enough to have those kind of teachers themselves and eventually hope to become that very influence. For Gary Poppinga, seventh grade science teacher at South Middle School in Waukee, that is exactly what inspired him. "I had some fantastic teachers in elementary, middle, and high school that had a big influence on my life," Poppinga recalls. "I always thought if I could have that same influence on kids that would be an extremely rewarding profession."
And he recognized the potential in education for him at a young age. "I think as soon as my middle school years I had an idea that I wanted to be a teacher."
But he didn’t chase that idea when it came to choosing a focus in his first years at college.
"I started off my first year of college thinking of getting a business degree," Poppinga said. "However, I just didn’t really find that connection I was looking for."
So after attaining his Associate Arts degree from Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge, Iowa, Poppinga moved on to Iowa State University and received his Bachelor of Science in Education. And so began a 26-year teaching career.
Shortly after graduating from college, Poppinga took a teaching job in his hometown of Manson, Iowa but soon realized he wanted to live in a larger area. After subbing in the Des Moines School District for a year, he found a job opening in Waukee. In 1990, he interviewed for the position and soon accepted the job. And he’s been in Waukee ever since.
"Waukee is such a fantastic place to work and live," Poppinga said. "It has given me the chance to grow professionally as a teacher and as a person.Both my children have gone to school here and have had the best education one can be offered. "I have truly been lucky to teach most of my career here and have had the opportunity to meet some tremendous individuals. We have a great administration and the best teachers in the business– of course I’m biased."
But you have to wonder: why science?
"I always enjoyed science in school," said Poppinga. "It was very interesting and exciting to me. I really enjoyed the experiments, labs, and dissections. "After graduating college I wanted to be a high school teacher but my first teaching job was an eighth grade life science class, and I thoroughly enjoyed that age group. When a job opened up in Waukee for a middle school teacher, I jumped at the chance to teach at that level and have been very happy with my decision."
And it’s turned out exactly as had he hoped.
"I think one of the most profound comments students have expressed to me is how I had an impact or influence on their lives," he said. "I don’t know if you can get a more satisfactory feeling than knowing you helped someone achieve success."
And that’s his favorite part about the job: knowing he’s helping kids be the best they can be and building relationships with students and staff that turn into lifelong friendships. Poppinga hopes to continue to positively influence Waukee students for the rest of his career. "I plan on teaching here in Waukee for the remainder of my career and hopefully continue living in this wonderful community," he added.
Gary Poppinga and his wife, Tricia, who is a registered nurse, have been married for 21 years and have two daughters. Emily attends Iowa State University, and Andrea is a junior at Waukee High School.