Stephen Doherty ’15 has a plan: To change the future. His dream is to bring everything he is learning as an early childhood education and special education dual major to the elementary school classroom. As a career path, it is the road less traveled; very few elementary school teachers are men. But Doherty is unusually clear-sighted and level-headed for someone his age, and he is accustomed to steering by lights not visible to everyone else.
Growing up in Bucks County, the sixth of nine children, Doherty was home-schooled from fifth through 12th grade. Four older siblings went the traditional route, but for Doherty and his other brothers and sisters, the decision was made to educate them at home.
“My mother and father sat down and discussed it, and decided together that home-schooling was the right option,” said Doherty. He speaks of his parents with deep affection and respect, referring to their incredible patience, his father’s good-natured handling of such a large brood, and describing his mother in the most glowing terms. It was Doherty’s mother, a nurse, who eventually took a break from her own career to stay home and take charge of her children’s intellectual growth, and the results speak for themselves.
“Home-schooling has its pros and cons,” said Doherty, “and at first I wasn’t sure about it. But it turned out to be a great experience and I honestly think my mom made a good choice. I’m very independent, I don’t need people to explain things over and over again. As a home-schooler, I worked right from the syllabus and did whatever homework I needed to do.”
Extracurricular activities included playing sports for CYO and for the local high school. “I was seeing my friends every day, playing tennis and swimming and diving.” And, not surprisingly, Doherty enjoyed the obvious perk of not attending a traditional school: “I got to sleep in every day!”
He may not be sleeping in any more, but he is still playing sports, running cross country and track for IU, and the work ethic he developed is evident in his commitment to his courses and his jobs outside of school. “I like to have everything done and prepared for the next class,” he said, discipline that serves him well considering his demanding schedule. Doherty has a 3.88 GPA and has achieved Dean’s List status every semester since enrolling at Immaculata, awarding him an invitation to join the Immaculata University Honor Society.
During the school year, Doherty works about 20 hours a week as a server at a nearby Olive Garden, and it is not just a way to earn extra money. Waiting tables is an occupation Doherty genuinely enjoys because, as he puts it, “I like to talk, so I’ll sit there with my tables and converse with my customers for a while.” During the summer, Doherty works seven days a week, splitting his time between the restaurant and lifeguarding at a local pool.
“I’m usually running around all the time, going from school to work to doing assignments to seeing friends. I’m always busy, which can cause a lot of stress.” Doherty realized he needed something to relieve the pressure, and the answer, for him, was more running, but of the purely athletic kind. “I run to clear my head. That’s why I’ve always loved running the most—I can clear my mind every single day. I knew I had to set some time aside for that.”
Doherty is remarkably focused and self-aware, but when he entered Immaculata, an environment he immediately sensed would be his “home away from home,” he admits to having had some doubts about what studies to pursue. “I really like to write,” he said, “so I came to IU as an English major.” It was a logical choice, but it wasn’t quite the right fit. “I’ve always felt as though I wanted to do something meaningful.”
Combining that deep-seated desire for meaning with his big-family background of comfort around and familiarity with children, Doherty ultimately chose teaching. Or perhaps it chose him.
“It was almost like a calling,” he said. “I knew it wouldn’t be about the money, but I just knew I wanted to do this. I love school, I love kids—it seemed to piece itself together.”
The irony of being a happily home-schooled student training to become a classroom teacher is not lost on Doherty, but he cannot deny a growing enthusiasm to begin the work. “I love going to my education classes, I have a great time presenting teaching lessons, and we’ve started our sophomore experience classroom observations. It’s being drilled into us about the theory of multiple intelligences and we’re learning how to present material in many different ways. I can’t wait to actually start!”
Doherty realizes the inspirational effect a teacher can have on students since he is experiencing it first-hand at IU, with David Brennan, Ed.D. and Christine Moran, Ph.D., both education professors, being especially influential. “It’s not like attending typical lectures. Very often it’s more of an open discussion, and I learn the most from both of their classes. It’s almost like being taught by a friend. They’re so down-to-earth. They remember you by name and always ask how you’re doing. I love them, they’re great.”
Aside from his professional plans, Doherty’s other life goal also revolves around children—having lots of them. “I want to beat my parents,” he jokes before turning serious. “I don’t know what I would do without my brothers and sisters,” who range in age from 29 to 14, with an older sister, Regina, Class of 2014, who also attends IU. “We had the usual squabbles growing up,” said Doherty, “but now they’re my best friends. I want to give that to my kids, as well.”
Doherty consistently reveals himself to be far from a typical college sophomore, speaking unselfconsciously about matters many people his age aren’t even considering. “My faith is a big part of my life,” he added. “I thank God every day for everything that I have. I’m not extremely religious, but my faith influences everything I do. My morals come from that, the way I treat other people. That is my rock.”