After years of encouraging others to pursue their passions, Mark Hansen finally decided to take his own advice.
“I was always telling my own children and my basketball players to follow their dreams, and one day it clicked that I never followed my own dream of becoming a teacher,” Hansen said.
Hansen — who grew up in Ferndale has coached basketball in various capacities in Bigfork since the 1980s — finally decided to work toward earning his teaching degree a few years ago.
“I reluctantly stepped foot on the campus at FVCC (Flathead Valley Community College), and I took 10 credits that first semester,” Hansen said. “After the first year, I never looked back. I just kept plugging away.”
Hansen eventually became the first of his eight siblings to earn a college degree when he graduated from the University of Great Falls last spring. Prior to graduation he completed his student teaching requirement at Swan River School, where he taught alongside fifth-grade teacher Shelley Emslie.
“I really enjoyed the fifth grade out there,” he said.
When a fifth-grade teaching position opened at Bigfork Elementary School last spring, everything fell into place for Hansen.
“I’m so pleased to start my teaching career at the fifth-grade level,” he said. “It’s a nice mix, being able to work with the high school kids at the sports level and getting to know these kids at this level.”
In addition to raising four children, Hansen has spent a lot of time with young students through his work in various athletic camps over the years.
“I’ve learned things on the court and at home that carry over to the classroom,” Hansen said. “Concepts like discipline, striving to be the best you can be, working as a team and having fun when the time comes — those all translate (to the classroom).”
Although he is a little older than most first-time teachers, Hansen plans to use his wealth of life experience to his advantage.
“With all of my life experience, I think I see things in a different light,” Hansen said. “I’ve learned a lot throughout my life, and I think bringing that to the classroom helps me as a teacher.”
One of Hansen’s biggest challenges — especially with his second job as the head varsity girls basketball coach — is the time commitment.
“I always want to make sure I have enough material to keep everyone going,” he said.
“I put lots of hours into making sure everything is as close to perfect as it can be, and I take time to reflect at the end of the day on how to make things better. I know that one size doesn’t fit all, so I have to make sure I have something for every student.”
In addition to catering to a variety of learning styles, Hansen tries to incorporate as much hands-on learning as possible into his lesson plans.
“I have some cool plans for math lessons where we measure the area of the football field and then calculate the cost of resurfacing it,” Hansen said. “I like to give them real-life things that they can wrap their heads around.”
Although he values the academic side of teaching, Hansen knows that as an educator, his job goes beyond teaching the rules of reading, writing and arithmetic.
“I want to make a difference in kids’ lives,” he said.