Ty Rhodes was born and raised in Winfield, Kansas, the son of two elementary school teachers. He earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Education from Wichita State University, before earning his Master’s Degree in School Leadership from Baker University. After earning his MA, he returned to Wichita State University to earn his District Leadership Licensure.
Ty’s first teaching position was as a Junior High math teacher in Wellington, Kansas. After a year he moved to Hesston, Kansas, where he continues to work to this day. For ten years, he worked as a teacher and a coach. He then moved up to the position of Activities Director and Assistant Principal for two years, before taking his current position as Principal of Hesston High School—a position he holds currently, a decade later.
Tell us a little about why you chose to go into education, and later into administration?
I would say that I did really well in college. I maintained good grades throughout, and played basketball, too. But I didn’t really have a solid vision beyond those four years. By the time I earned my bachelor’s degree, I had accumulated over 180 college credit hours—I really took full advantage of the opportunities afforded by my scholarship, in that respect! I’ve got some credit hours in the subject of business, and in mathematics, and in Spanish, and then I ultimately settled on education. I think, if I had done a better job from the beginning of really analyzing what was to come after college, I would have settled on my career a bit quicker. But I was fortunate to be in a situation where I could experiment like that and pursue different disciplines without putting myself in a lot of debt, unlike many students.
I settled on education, but moved into administration after about a decade. I loved teaching and coaching—it’s a time in my career that I look back on fondly. It was fun, but I reached a point where I felt the need to try something new, to have a different experience. And as you move forward in education, a ‘new experience’ is either going to take the form of moving to a different school, or moving to a different role. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to move into some different roles over time here at Hesston High School. It has kept things interesting for me and given me new opportunities.
What surprised you the most when you started your career, what lessons did you learn?
In a lot of education courses in college, you are given the facts and prepared for the theoretical. But when you enter the field, you’ve got to figure out how to apply these things you’ve learned to actual humans in a classroom setting. I think those first two, three, four, even five years are really the foundation for most peoples’ careers. If you’re fortunate enough to have really good experiences, you can have a great career. But I’ve also seen some people that have had bad experiences, and they felt like it was best to leave education and go in a different direction. I was really fortunate in that I had experiences that taught me a lot. I’ve had the chance to work with a lot of great people, and I’ve had the opportunity to advance in my district. These opportunities have kept things fresh for me and have kept me in situations where I’m always learning new things.
What is one piece of advice you would give someone starting in your industry?
I could go two ways with this question, because there’s the teaching part and the school administrator part, and those can be two very different roles. If we’re talking about somebody who’s just getting into teaching, I would work with them to maintain a short list of priorities. It’s easy for teachers to get stretched out in a thousand different directions, and I think that if somebody can just focus on being really good at a handful of skills, they can find a lot of success. The world tries to give us this feeling that we’ve got to be amazing at everything, but that’s just not realistic.
My advice would probably be the same for somebody going into administration—figure out a short list of priorities that you want to be really good at. Something I would add to that, at that administrative level, is that people are going to expect you to be an expert at everything, and that you shouldn’t let that outside pressure get to you. If you’re in a good organization, you’ll have many people around you that can support you and that you can lean on to be the experts, to facilitate things, while you focus on being good at the things that are more directly relevant to your administrative position and responsibilities.
If you could change anything about education in general, what would it be and why?
I could go a lot of different directions on this question, too. To say that there’s a lot of bureaucracy in public education is a bit of an understatement. I would prefer a little more local control, at times. I think that’s how communities would best be served—with local control over education. Now, what the details of that would be are a whole different seven-hour conversation.
How would your colleagues describe you?
I think they would say that I’m a person who they enjoy working with, that I’m easy to work with and easy to get along with, and that I’m supportive of the people around me.
How do you maintain a solid work life balance?
I think, sometimes, we create a storybook idea of what work life balance is. I don’t know if I have an intentional way of achieving it. I know that in my position, there are going to be stretches of the year where I’m going to work a lot of hours. I’m going to have some weeks where I’m working 80 hours, and there will be some weeks where that’s dialled back and maybe it amounts to only 50 hours. The good thing about education is that there are intermittent breaks where I can step away for a bit. In my line of work, the important thing is understanding the flow of that work. I’ve got to plan for the busy times, which I do by locking in on how to keep myself organized and managing my time, but still allowing time to get to my children’s events and be home in time for supper. It also helps to keep track of which times will be a little looser for me, where I’ll be able to step away, go on vacation, get out of town, get on my bicycle, all of that sort of thing. Managing a calendar is a huge part of an educator’s life.
What is one piece of technology that helps you the most in your daily routine?
I’m a ‘keep it simple’ kind of guy, so I don’t want to end up using a hundred different tools in my job. I want to find the things that give me a big bang for my buck, so honestly, I’m a big Google guy. My Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Docs are what I use most of the time. Those pieces of software help me stay organized with regard to communication. Whether it’s with office staff, or with our teaching staff, or regarding my own personal organization, those are the big tools for me, and that’s where a lot of my work is done. Also, for better, worse, or in-between, having a mobile device is an important part of the job these days, too. A lot of my work gets done on a tablet or smartphone, especially when I’m on the move or at events. So, mobile devices and Google are the pieces of technology I use quite often.
What has been the hardest obstacle you’ve overcome?
That isn’t really how I look at my life. The way I see it, I’ve been incredibly lucky. I was able to go to college for free and waste a lot of other peoples’ money while learning a lot of different things that didn’t end up directly contributing to my degrees or my career. I’ve continued to be incredibly lucky in my career. I’ve worked with a lot of good people.
During the course of our lives, I think a lot of human beings experience the same things, whether it’s relationships with people or job stress, or that kind of thing. I tend to let it roll off my back pretty quickly. So, I don’t get bogged down in what could be perceived as obstacles, and instead I just try to move on. I know that’s maybe not hitting the essence of the question, but that’s just my approach.
Who has been a role model to you and why?
I couldn’t just pinpoint one. I grew up in a family of educators, and so I saw how my mother approached her work as a teacher. She left each day before we were awake so she could do her work in the mornings, freeing her up to be home in the evenings. My dad was a teacher, and then an administrator for a number of years, and I think he was really well respected in the community for the way he supported people and the way he treated people. So, right from the get-go, there were some really good role models for me.
On our teaching staff, there are folks here that were my peers when I first came to Hesston. They’re people who I’ve looked up to for a number of years, as well, and now I’m technically their boss, but as odd as it may sound, I still look up to them. They’re the folks that I admired when I first came here as a really young teacher. I have a long list of teachers and administrators that I’ve been lucky enough to work with that have been a really good influence on me over time.
What is one piece of advice that you have never forgotten?
Well, I could go into a lot of detail on this, but that would be long and drawn out. So, I’ll keep it simple. This applies to any time you’re coming to a big decision point in your life—maybe you’re debating taking one job over another or debating a big move, or any of that sort of thing. At some point, you’ve got to realize that you can over-analyze things. Instead, you’ve got to keep it simple. Ask yourself what your values are, and then go with your gut.
What does success look like to you?
That’s a hard one for me to answer because I’m a really self-critical person. So, it doesn’t really matter what outcome I’ve actually achieved, I will always think about how it wasn’t good enough. That must make me sound like a maniac, but I just look at my body of work as something needs to be a bit better all the time. But I feel like success for me, in my job, is about the success of other people. So, I look to see that students in our school are successful, and staff members are successful. Whether that’s in our classroom or in extracurricular activities with the kids that our teachers are coaching, sponsoring, or leading. When I see that happening, I feel good about the success of our school and our organization.
What is one piece of advice you would like to leave for anybody considering education?
I think it’s an amazing career. You get a chance to be really influential, you have a chance to build really strong relationships with people, and I think there are a lot of intrinsic rewards. People can bash it for the poor compensation and all that stuff, but I think there are intrinsic rewards that would be hard to match in some other professions—not all, but some. And so, I think people that embrace that part of the profession find education to be a really rewarding career.