Cedar Springs — Sam Becker joined the Cedar Springs community last fall as the new principal at Cedar View Elementary. SNN gets to know him in this edition of Meet Your Administrator.
Other positions you have held in education: A native of West Michigan, Becker’s career in education is full of twists and turns, but in the end, he says, “(Cedar View) is the best place I’ve been.”
Becker started teaching high school world history and coaching football and baseball for seven years in Houston, Texas. After deciding to move back to West Michigan, he took a job coaching football for Grandville Public Schools and also taught at a local juvenile detention center.
He was then offered two jobs in the same week, and took both, working as an assistant principal and AP US History teacher at Wellspring Charter Academy and as the head football coach for Wyoming Public Schools. “Looking back, I don’t know how we survived it,” he said. “My first daughter had just been born and was in the NICU, and life was chaos.”
Becker later helped WPS revamp and run its high school’s Alternative Learning Center before moving to Kenowa Hills Public Schools, where he served as dean of students and football coach for four years. His last stop before Cedar Springs was as assistant principal at Newaygo Middle School.
Although his teaching experience was primarily at the high school level, “I love fifth-graders,” he said. “(In Newaygo) I would go hang out in the fifth-grade wing because they’re still impressionable. Having been on both sides now (leading high school and lower grades), I did not fully realize the impact that elementary teachers make in setting the future for kids. We have a chance at this level to really set the stage for kids to be successful — truly have a lasting impact. It’s the best career move I’ve made, coming to (Cedar) View.”
What about jobs outside education? While coaching football for Grandville, Becker also worked as a drywall hanger and mold remediator, since there were no teaching jobs available.
“I loved it. In education, you sometimes take 10 years to see the fruits of your labor; with drywall, you start it and you finish it. But I had never done anything like that before and I was literally sometimes YouTube-ing what to do. Those guys (on the work crew) probably thought I was like the biggest idiot, but it was so fun to learn from them. I also really valued my time with them, getting to know people from other walks of life — I think it taught me how to have better conversations with people.”
- East Kentwood High School, class of 2003
- Bachelor’s degree in history and psychology, with a teaching endorsement, University of Iowa
- Master’s degree in educational leadership, American College of Education
What would you like to share about your family? Becker and his wife, Erica, have three children: Olivia, 7; Claire, 5; and Lucas, 3. He also comes from a family of educators: his mother and grandma both taught fifth grade, his brother teaches high school and wife Erica used to teach middle school before becoming a stay-at-home mother.
Hobbies/interests: “We spend our money on traveling and good food. I grew up traveling and my parents instilled that in me, the importance of seeing new places and where other people come from. And now I think it’s important to teach my kids that, too. … I love to smoke meats: in the summer, I’ll be out grilling or smoking meat and we’ll all be outside playing, spending time together.”
What kind of kid were you at the age of students at Cedar View? “I was a good student, hardworking, but also with a tendency to mess around and be pretty goofy. If I was left alone, I’d probably get myself in trouble — not real trouble, but like typical fifth-grade-boy messing around.”
What’s the biggest lesson you have learned from students? “The importance of patience. Not every kid is going to (learn) the same way or on the same day. Have patience to meet them where they’re at, and stay with them until they get it.”
If you could go back to school, which grade would you return to? “Probably my senior year of high school — that’s when everything kind of clicked. I hit puberty super late, so when most people are awkward for two years, I was awkward for more like five years. I enjoyed the teachers and classes I had that year a lot, and I had a really good group of buddies … I would say that was the year that I felt most connected to Kentwood, with impactful teachers and being part of the athletic community.”
If you walked into your new school building to theme music that suits your personality, what would the song be? “‘Dirt on My Boots’ by Jon Pardi. I start my mornings off with my boots getting dirty out there (at the school bus line), and then come in and gotta get to work.”