Our beloved substitute teachers: Life before WHS

WHS Substitute Teacher Jim McDonald (Photo by Jordan Kahn)

Have you ever wondered about the lives of substitute teachers prior to working at WHS? We’re here to report to you on the exciting backgrounds of two familiar faces:

Substitute Teacher Jim McDonald, father of English and Journalism Teacher Shawn McDonald, has worked for Westfield Public Schools since 2019. He became a substitute teacher to be around his daughter and because he loves interacting with high schoolers. “My favorite grades to teach are high schoolers,” he said. “They’re more like human beings… middle schoolers can’t sit still. I don’t like being a disciplinarian. I would rather be able to communicate with the kids than yell at them.”

Life before substitute teaching for McDonald was fascinating. He would travel to Mexico with his best friend to surf every summer. While vacationing, they collected iguanas, snakes and parrots to sell to pet stores back home. The profit he made from selling the animals would finance his trips each year to return to Mexico.

Prior to moving east, McDonald was the chief financial officer for Northwestern Health Sciences University and Dunwoody Institute of Technology, both located in Minnesota. “I ran all the finances for those two colleges,” he said. “I started working there after graduate school. I have an undergraduate degree in botany and a master’s degree in human anatomy.”

Although McDonald’s love for plants and animals didn’t translate into his career, he built a greenhouse and raised orchids for many years in Minnesota. “I collected orchids all over South America and Central America. When I moved out of Minnesota, I donated all of my orchids to an Arboretum.”

WHS Substitute Teacher David Owens (Photo by Jordan Kahn)

Westfield resident David Owens has been a substitute teacher for Westfield Public Schools for the past seven years. After growing up in Indiana, he attended Ohio Wesleyan University, where he met his wife, a WHS graduate. They moved to Westfield together to start a family; years later, he decided to be a substitute teacher. “I like to say now that my wife and my three children have all gone through the Westfield schools; I’m the only one who didn’t, so I’m trying to make up for it.”

After college, Owens moved to Japan to teach English at an ‘escalator school,’ where students can attend from kindergarten all the way through college. “I was hired on the promise that I would study Japanese before I worked, but studying two semesters in college here isn’t quite the same as being there… I was there for three years and by the end, I was pretty good [with the language].”

When Owens and his wife were ready to retire, they joined the Peace Corps. He was stationed in Jordan, teaching English at an all-boys middle school. “When we came back, I knew I wanted to continue teaching. That’s when I became a substitute.”

Remembering names was a priority for Owens; he had memorized all of his students’ names by the end of the first week at school in Japan.

He retains these values today, as he still remembers current seniors from when he had spent a week with them as fifth graders at Wilson Elementary School in the beginning of his substituting career.

After substituting at every level, Owens settled on WHS. He said, “I like that I can have a genuine, intellectual adult conversation. You can’t do that with fifth graders.”

Owens loves adventure. He recounted his time skydiving with his son: “It was a thrill. It was wonderful.” Despite his age, Owens makes it a priority to stay active. He tries to go swimming everyday, keeping up his passion that has lasted from his childhood when he was on his school swim team.

Students may be surprised by what they could learn about our substitute teachers. Both McDonald and Owens have chosen to spend the ends of their careers at WHS, and we are lucky to have substitute teachers that have exciting life experiences to share.