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West Valley City Journal

Black Hawk pilot or high school teacher? Gatrell does both

Nov 03, 2017 02:45PM ● By Jennifer Gardiner

Deborah Gatrell flying a Black Hawk helicopter over Kuwait in 2008. (Photo/Deborah Gatrell)

By Jennifer Gardiner | [email protected]

It’s not every day you run into a teacher as unique as Deborah Gatrell.

Gatrell has been a full-time teacher for almost 10 years. She has also served nearly 20 years in the Army National Guard, trained as a Black Hawk helicopter pilot and deployed overseas. 

Gatrell might have nearly two decades of service in the military but said being a teacher is her passion and, by far, the more challenging career. 

“In the military, yes, it was hard to get there. There was a lot of training, hard work and dedication involved and when it was done I had one job to do,” Gatrell said. “In the classroom I have 30 to 35 students at a time who all have different learning styles, personalities and other things going on around them affecting their lives.” 

Her full teaching load is roughly 200 students total at any given time. 

Gatrell also said having students come to class with varying degrees of essential prior knowledge and skills presents additional challenges. 

“Many are in a different place, some of them cannot read well, some cannot write well and some do not even speak English,” Gatrell said. “It is truly amazing when the kids have that moment where you know they get it.”

Gatrell said that while teaching is demanding with long hours and low pay, it is still incredibly rewarding to interact with the students every day. 

“It’s not just the a-ha moments that I love. It’s really when students realize that they have the power to shape the future,” Gatrell said. “They can choose to act to make the world a better place instead of being victims of the decisions other people make.”

Gatrell said many of her students know what she does outside of her job as their teacher. There are times when the two different worlds collide, allowing her to help students put her lessons into perspective. 

“It’s truly inspiring when students understand history as the story of real people trying to solve real problems as best they could,” Gatrell said. “We can learn a lot from them about survival, persistence and change.”

Gatrell was selected to be a 2017-2018 Utah Teacher Fellow as part of the Hope Street Group in collaboration with the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY). She is joined by educators from 13 other districts, representing some of the state’s most collaborative, positive and solutions-oriented educators who are truly dedicated to their passion for teaching and materializing the best conditions for student learning. 

Gatrell was raised in a military family and travelled all over the country, living outside the United States multiple times while growing up. She moved to Utah when she was almost 16 and attended Northridge High School in Layton. She decided she wanted to be a teacher while in college.

Having joined the military at 20 just before serving in the Canada-Toronto East mission, Gatrell went on to receive a social science composite undergraduate degree from Brigham Young University in 2003. Before becoming a full-time teacher, Gatrell completed some military commitments while working part-time as a substitute teacher. 

Gatrell attended flight school before deploying in 2008. When she returned from Kuwait in 2009, she started full-time within the Granite School District teaching in the Young Parent Program for teen mothers. After five years there she joined the faculty at Kennedy Junior High and landed at Hunter High School where she teaches honors geography, AP European history and U.S. history. She achieved National Board Certification in 2015 and, in 2016, received a master of arts in education with an emphasis in curriculum and instruction from the University of Phoenix. She is also a member of the Utah Council for the Social Studies, the social studies department chair and a mentor to new teachers. 

Gatrell plans to serve in the military until she is able to retire and then plans to evaluate her life and whether she is still able to balance the demands of two careers. She hopes to teach in the classroom as long as she can. 

What really matters the most to Gatrell is that teachers understand they play a critical role in shaping the future of their students and the world.