From Classroom to Emergency Room

A Teacher’s Love of Books, Helping People, and Why Minions Make Everything Better.


Gabriela Viruet

Ms. McCandless conversing with her students in her classroom.

In our continuing series of Teacher Features, we had the pleasure to talk to Megan McCandless, an English teacher here at ACIT who is an avid reader, a certified Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), and has an unparalleled passion for Minions. Throughout this interview, McCandless talks about her past experiences and how they impact her to this day.

Teacher Feature, Mrs. Megan McCandless (Gabriela Viruet)

What is your name and how long have you been teaching here at ACIT?

So, my name is Megan McCandless. I have been an English teacher here at ACIT for nine years now.

Where did you go to college and what did you study there?

I went to ACCC (Atlantic Cape Community College) first and got an associates degree in education, and then I transferred to Stockton and got a Bachelor’s degree in education as well as a Bachelor’s degree in literature with a minor in creative writing.

Is there a specific reason as to why you switched colleges?

ACCC is a 2-year college where you get your associate’s degree and I wanted to stay local. I was working at the hospital locally so I wanted to kind of stay local to where I was employed. So, I transferred to Stockton. I saw a post on the wall at ACCC for instant-decision day, called the lady, made an appointment, and then went to it and Stockton went “Oh, cool, you’re accepted!” So yeah, that’s how I ended up at Stockton.

I understand that you are an English teacher, is there a specific type of English you teach? Does it vary from grade to grade?

Our curriculum does vary from grade to grade. In the nine years I’ve been here, I’ve taught freshmen, sophomores, and juniors and each focus is a little bit different. So, like, 9th grade is more like an exposure to world literature and a whole bunch of different genres. 10th grade is all American literature, which is my personal favorite, and 11th grade is still mostly American literature, like, just a darker side of American literature.

Ms. McCandless writing on whiteboard. (Gabriela Viruet)

What makes your teaching style different from other teachers?

I think what makes my style different from other teachers is that I really focus on the skills I can teach my students. I’m very practical in the sense that I know that most students aren’t going to go on to be English teachers so me teaching you all the content about these great literary pieces that I love, you might not necessarily love. So, if you can leave my class with a focus on things like your writing skills, reading skills, and speaking skills, I think that’s going to do more for my students than memorizing what happened in the book.

I heard that you do not give out grades like other teachers do. Can you explain how you grade your students and why you decided to grade them in that way?

Alright, so I have that reputation as the crazy English teacher that doesn’t believe in grades! I don’t think grades show what you actually can do. I think they are just a marker and we define ourselves too much by that marker. But, at the end of the day, having an A doesn’t show me that you really understand things or you have the writing skills. So, I like to do what I call “narrative assessment”, it’s where I give my students feedback and that feedback tells them what they did well, what they’re struggling with, how they can improve what they need to improve on. It’s more of a conversation than just here’s what the teacher says, here’s the grade, you know? It’s that conversation of ‘how can I do better?’ and really what my focus is; I want my students to learn. I don’t necessarily care how they learn but I want them to learn something, so if we have to have that conversation, I think that conversation means more than just slapping a grade points on it that students look at and go “oh cool I have an A” or “Oh cool I have an 80 something”. You know, they don’t really take that to heart as feedback, they read it, you know that’s gonna help them move forward.

Were you always a gradeless teacher? If not, what made you switch over?

Well, I used to— you know– when I first started teaching I followed kind of what everybody else does: you put points on things, those points average out, and then the first year I taught honors and a lot of students that did what we call ‘grade grubbing’, you know, arguing for points and I think that really frustrated me [be]cause I had a student who sat through a Socratic seminar, a discussion that we were having, and she didn’t say anything at all. Sat there and listened and then afterwards she came up to my desk and she said “I think I deserve all my points for that discussion” and I kind of went “How come how come you deserve all the points, you didn’t say anything,” and she was like “I know but I need an A— I need a hundred in this class so I deserve all my points for the discussion” even though she didn’t say anything. I had a lot of that (kids demanding higher grades) that year and it really frustrated me. When I was kind of hitting my breaking point I went and did some research and I found this whole community of teachers online, it’s called, “teachers going gradeless” and they really opened my eyes to a different perspective on grades; like what grades actually mean so that was kind of– I got lost in the research rabbit hole and to this day I’m still doing research on it and networking with other teachers across the country in other countries even and just trying to find the best way to get the attention off the grades.

Do you have advice for any students who might take your class in the future?

Well, any advice for my future students: come prepared to learn. I think that’s one of the biggest complaints my students have is like I force you to learn but that’s the whole point of being in school. It shouldn’t just be like do this work, get a grade, pass, and get out of high school, like I want you to learn something. If you’re going to be here nine hours every day, then learn something.

What do you do outside of school, do you have any hobbies or any other jobs?

So, outside of school I have two kids and a husband so it’s like a regular zoo at my house if you add on my pets. I like making arts and crafts. I like just spending time outside and with my kids and then I also work as an EMT at two local squads in our area.

Mrs. McCandless is a big fan of Minions and the Despicable Me film series. (Gabriela Viruet)

Why did you decide to become an EMT?

So, that kind of happened by accident! I needed a way to pay for college— interesting story! I needed a way to pay for college because when I graduated high school my mom moved out of state and she kind of just left me here and said, “Go have fun, you’re an adult now,” My mom was a nurse over at the hospital in Galloway and she got me a job there. I had wanted nothing to do with the medical field but while I was there, they were giving me a paycheck and they even paid for a lot of my college. I decided to, you know, take the opportunities they provided and they cross trained me in a bunch of different ways. So I worked in a whole bunch of different departments at the hospital and then I got bored. I get bored really easily. When you work a shift at the hospital it’s 12-hour shift, so you’re running the same circles in the ER for 12 hours and I decided I wanted to go out on the ambulance [be]cause all these EMTs were bringing in these cool patients and I wanted to go see all the cool things they were seeing so I went to EMT school! And I’ve been an EMT for the past 13 years now. And I’ve seen a lot of stuff and it’s just my backup career like it was always my fall back in case I couldn’t get a teaching job, but it’s something that I became very passionate about as well.

How do you find balance and deal with stress in your life as a teacher, EMT, and a parent?

I read a lot! Reading is my coping mechanism when I’m overwhelmed and stressed. I read or I write, like I do enjoy writing a lot. That’s why my minor is in creative writing. It’s something that’s just kind of cathartic for me and so is reading, like I love getting lost in the book. It’s always been that way. My muma kind of taught me how to cope with things when I was younger and didn’t have the greatest home situation so I would lose myself in books and that’s kind of how I would deal with stress with a lot of things. And, I also like to balance it out. When I’m going through different things here at school I’ll go pick up an extra shift on the ambulance, sometimes, and that kind of balances it out. One job makes me appreciate the other job more, if that makes sense, and then of course there’s my kids and they ultimately always bring me joy, even when they are the most frustrating, they bring me joy. They’re five and two now and you know, they just make me laugh in ways you can’t make up. Kids are just the greatest sometimes.

What profession did you think you were going to pursue growing up? What motivated you to become a teacher?

Well, once upon a time I wanted to be a lawyer because mostly I enjoyed arguing with my parents, proving that I was right, but then I met some really great English teachers in 7th grade and then even my sophomore year of high school had some really great English teachers and just the way they related to me and they made such a difference in my life, and my life was like a real struggle when I was growing up. And they just got through to me and related to me on levels with books! So, you take my favorite things and you’re showing me how I can make a difference with somebody that inspired me to want to be an English teacher in particular is because I want to not only teach my students and encourage them to learn and explore well, but I also want them to know that like it’s okay to be a person and I like inspiring them. If I can make a difference in at least one kid’s life you know I’ve done my job, alright? Like my goal is always more than one but you know if I can you know if I can make a difference. That’s, you know, ultimately why I like being an English teacher.

Mrs. McCandless is a big fan of Minions and the Despicable Me film series. (Gabriela Viruet)

Who is the most influential person in your life?

There’s been a lot of different people who have been influential in my life! Over the years, I think as you go through different phases in life you find people who mean different things to you at that phase in your life. Overall, throughout my whole life, I always kind of come back to my muma Shirley. She passed away when I was a junior in high school and it was devastating. Like, it broke me. However, now as an adult like I appreciate all the time I had with her and how she really like taught me the value of– like— her motto is like her home was my happy space so it was my happy home and when I struggled in elementary school with reading she handed me a book and said “Here you go, read it” and she just kept handing me books until I eventually, you know, went to enjoy reading and just like everything she’s done taught me to like find joy in things. Overall, she was the most influential person in my life.

If you could tell your younger self something what would it be?

If I have to tell my younger self something– that’s the hardest question of that whole list you gave me there! I would tell myself that it was worth it. Like, everything that I had to go through to get to where I am today and the family that I have today and the students that I get to interact with today. It was all 100% worth it. So, I would tell my younger self not to give up, just keep going!

What is something that you wish others knew about you?

Something I wish others knew about me— well nobody knows this about me, but I absolutely love minions! Despicable Me, Minions, they’re the best and I think everybody should watch Despicable Me and just get some joy and some laughter out of Minions!