Living passionately in pursuit


Words by Erick Innis

Looking back, I wasn’t designed for medical school. It came with a slew of emotions that many other students are able to overcome. I was not. So I stepped away from my pursuit of becoming a doctor, without an inkling of what I would do. But what was clear after therapy, anxiety medications, and emergency room visits was that this wasn’t it.

My teaching career has been as unorthodox as it has been unexpected. Nevertheless, I have stumbled upon some success in this new arena. I realized that to be the teacher I wanted to be, there would be sacrifice, and I was willing to give up everything: money, time, lifestyle. With this new parachute-less mindset, I noticed my life was different. I was working, and now living, freely. And I set out to bring this kind of existence to kids in Athens, Tennessee.

I began to push a motto that evolved into a vision statement. A student painted it on a stained wooden plank to hang above my classroom door: “Passionately in Pursuit.” You didn’t have to arrive passionately in pursuit of something, but this is how I hoped you’d leave.

There is a heavy feeling of “blankness” that seems to occupy many in this generation. Some get lost searching; many don’t care enough to even start. So where students’ passions are absent or misused, my job is to instill or direct it. For students to be inspired and motivated they need to see those emotions in action. That’s why I’m vulnerable with them and tell them “my background, anxiety, failures, and life crises are all open curriculum for you. My life’s hand is all in on a daily basis.”

This teaches them that: 1.) They don’t have to hate working—I’m showing them what “I love my job” looks like, 2.) Their missions can go beyond their circumstances, and 3.) How they view me is inconsequential—I’m just here to help.

People have a lot harder time throwing away someone who’s on their team. And typically, when they’ve bought into you, they’ve bought into your message, and before you know it, they just might be living it. 

Erick Innis is a science teacher from Athens, Tennessee. His students nominated him for EF’s 2018 Teacher Appreciation week award, which you can read more about at


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