Uncharted waters and an unexpected calling

When you ask Paul DeMaret (B.A. ’88, M.A. ’95) about his interests, he might tell you about the time he wrote his first mini-book on sharks in the fifth grade. Sharks were “an obsession” then, one that followed him to college in Miami where he planned to study Marine Biology. The only catch was he found that the classes he responded to with the most enthusiasm were his English classes, finding a particular joy there he didn’t feel in his science classes.

Without a plan for what he might do with an English degree, DeMaret came home to Fort Collins where he had lived since he was a junior in high school. While earning two degrees in English at Colorado State University, he was inspired by professors who challenged him – and by the rigor of the degree -- to consider the meaning of meaning.

“I love the Socrates quote, ‘An unexamined life is not worth living’” said DeMaret. “I think nothing prepares you better to examine life than an English degree because it throws open the doors of how we make meaning -- of texts, of experiences, of the world -- and of how we communicate this meaning with each other.”

Paul DeMaret and Bill McBride at the 2009 NCTE Convention in Philadelphia
Bill McBride and Paul De Maret at the 2009 NCTE Convention in Philadelphia, where Bill received the Distinguished Service Award and Paul received the Colorado Teacher of Excellence Award from the National Council of Teachers of English

DeMaret’s early obsession with sharks later turned toward a passion for teaching. He credits influential English professors Bob Zoellner, Gilbert Findlay, Kate Kiefer, and Bill McBride.

In particular, he remembers Bob Zoellner “modeling how to do a timed writing on Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises by asking the class for ideas, pushing us to find good quotes and textual evidence, then crafting them freehand on the chalkboard into a concise, eloquent response.  I learned more about writing in ten minutes of watching him do this than in all my other years of writing instruction.”

He also remembers, again and again, seeing Bill McBride greet a former student by name and recount the exact scene from the first time they ever met, “including my own first meeting with him,” and “seeing him take a student's question and turn it back to the class, rather than keeping the power of providing answers for himself alone.”

McBride, in particular, inspired DeMaret to “pay forward” the guiding impact his professors had on him as college student. “Thanks to his influence, what had been a nebulous idea of becoming a teacher became a defining path for my life,” said DeMaret.

For more than 25 years DeMaret has followed his passion, currently teaching Language Arts and serving as a forensic speech and debate coach at Rocky Mountain High School in Fort Collins.

“I’m always inspired by students who are eager to learn,” said DeMaret. “They challenge me to do my best each day.” DeMaret also works as a national faculty member with the College Board's SpringBoard language arts program, helping to train other teachers.

Following the strong role models he cites from his years at CSU, DeMaret doesn’t leave his identity as a teacher behind when he walks out of the classroom. He recognizes and embodies the concept that life and work are interconnected. By doing something every day to help make the world a better place, he finds meaning for himself while making a difference for others.

“I'm inspired every day by seeing my students -- whether in the classroom or in debate practice -- responding to challenges, growing as thinkers, and gaining confidence in themselves,” said DeMaret. “Outside of my classroom, I'm inspired by my colleagues, by nature, by great literature and film, and by the continuing wonder and joy of watching my daughters grow into strong, independent young women.”

From the time he was a kid writing a book about sharks, to being a science major realizing his joy was in studying English, to coming home to study and discover his love for teaching, to his work in the classroom and his life with his family, Paul DeMaret always looks for and finds meaning in his life. For those considering an English major and looking for equally meaningful lives and work, it’s worth knowing that DeMaret believes, “No matter what you wind up doing for a living… what you learn as an English major will always be relevant to how to live meaningfully.”