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Scott Yates: Teacher Feature

written by David Bradley

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I- I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference – Robert Frost


People, like electricity, seek the path of least resistance. An established trail offers the comfort in the knowledge that many a weary traveler has passed this way enroute to whatever adventure destiny has in store for them. While it’s far easier to follow in the familiar footsteps of others, these journeys tend to lack adventure and the possibility for creative growth. The circuitous route taken to our campus by English Professor Scott Yates was by no means ordinary. After the attacks on New York City and Washington D.C. in 2001, you might think it unwise for an American to pack his family off to the Middle East, but that’s exactly what Scott Yates did, and it was an adventure he will not soon forget.

Professor Yates’ childhood was filled with books, his faith, and guarding his bedroom door with high-powered toy weapons (you will have to take his English 1B class to fully appreciate that reference). The son of educators, Yates was raised in Cottonwood. He was drawn to literature quite early: first, through the stories read to him by his mother, then on his own as he thumbed through the pages of C.S. Lewis and Tolkien. In fact, the young “professor” read so much his father would have to pry him away from his tomes to work on more pedestrian, household tasks. Yates says he would tell his dad that, “any parent would love to have a child who read so much.” Though undoubtedly true, the elder Yates would still drag his son outside to work on the family car, a skill that would come in handy later in life. You may be beginning to think this future college English instructor had academia strewn all over his DNA. Well, dear reader, you may be surprised to know that Yates’ first yearned to be a professional football star. No whiteboards and classrooms for him; the glory of the gridiron awaited! As the years gathered and adulthood approached, however, Yates surrendered his dreams of athletic stardom and decided to become a teacher.

Professor Yates confessed he was really not challenged by school in his early years, which led to him becoming a “little lazy.” This changed after he graduated from Redding’s Liberty Christian High School, and left his rural surroundings for the more urban setting of San Diego to pursue his undergraduate degree. The academics at Christian Heritage College were far more demanding, but Professor Yates did not wither in the face of these pressures, instead he buckled down and became known as “the only guy in the dorms studying.” An ignominious title for some, but for those with a purpose it can be worn as a badge of honor. Yates’ conservative, insular upbringing did not keep him from grasping the enlightened thinking of some of his instructors.

Professor Yates’ next stop was for his graduate degree at San Francisco State University, where the air was filled with a palpable intellectual buzz. During his years at SF State a dark cloud appeared on Yates’ horizon, one which has plagued college students for hundreds of years: the need to eat. Yates said a student philosopher once told him, “sometimes you get tired of only eating beans.” This need to eat forced him to find a job. He found employment as a substitute teacher in the Richmond, California School District. This did pull his attention away from his masters’ work, but after growing up in Southern Shasta County, he found the world of urban public education illuminating.

After marriage and graduation, Yates found himself back in San Diego. It was there he learned to speak Arabic. You might be wondering, “why Arabic?” The answer is simple: the introductory course was half off. A new language at a bargain price, what could possibly be better? Yates attempted to try out his newly acquired verbal skills on members of the Iraqi community living in Southern California, but unfortunately the Iraqis only wanted to speak English. Bold action would have to be taken if he was going to be able to flex his new found linguistic muscle. Professor Yates had taken an interest in the Republic of Yemen since reading Eric Hansen’s Motoring with Mohammed. After a brief visit to the country proved successful, he decided to move his wife (who had also studied Arabic) and two children to the Middle East. This was no small step. Remember, this was after the fall of the Twin Towers, and any American moving into the Arabian Peninsula could feel at least a modest amount of trepidation. But, as Professor Yates told me, “you have to take some risks.” While much of that part of the world had fallen victim to “Westernization,” Yemen had retained much of its ancestral charm, which was another reason why the good professor decided to move there. Once there he instructed in Yemeni private schools, then taught English to the children of embassy employees.

Professor Yates stumbled onto a very important discovery during his time in Yemen: people are people. If one can move past any preconceived notions, that person will soon discover that he or she can see their own reflection in the faces of those who surround them. The Yemeni people disagree with their government, just as Americans do; they have questions about their faith just as Americans have. They also try to seek happiness and fulfillment for themselves and their families. Regardless of the cultural or religious differences, Yates said you can see strong parallels between Yemeni and American life. In all the time he was there, he only met one man who was truly hostile towards Americans. Most of the people he met might say they disagreed with the political policies of America, but had no problem with him personally. Why? Because they, like most people (hopefully) can differentiate between the two.

Do not think Yates’ time in Yemen was all sunshine and fahsa. (Don’t understand what fahsa is? Hey, you’re in college, look it up). While there, the popular uprising commonly known as the “Arab Spring” began. It was not uncommon for the professor and his family to hear the sounds of mortar and gunfire. Not wanting to be the father “whose kid got hit by a stray mortar shell,” he moved his family back to the quiet shores of the United States.

Yates made his way back to Shasta County and found a position here at Shasta College. What does the future hold? Well, Yates says he’s not looking too far down the road. “Life is like driving in the dark, I can only see as far as my headlights.” You can find him teaching English 190, English 1B, and English 260 here this fall. Don’t be shy about talking to him; he’s approachable and most affable. When he is not teaching, he is working on his new house (it was actually built in 1952 but it’s new to him), or spending time with his wife and four children. You might even catch a glimpse of him pedaling his way through the highways and byways of our community. I recommend you take his classes. Your skills will improve, but that’s just my opinion. (But I’m right).


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