Repaying a Part of the Debt

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Stefinee Pinnegar

Associate Professor, Teacher Education


Across my academic life when I have gone to my mother seeking advice she has said to me, “Your life is bizarre.” For many years this was disheartening to me, until I realized that what she was saying was that the shape and form of my life was so different from her own that she really did not know what to say.

I grew up in St. George, Utah, and I planned to marry and have many, many children, and I diligently prepared for this role. In my teen years I won local and state awards for my baking, my sewing, and my home economic demonstrations. I babysat and I prepared to be a teacher (because, like so many, I thought it would fold well into my life as a mother). I am a good example of “tell God what you plan and he will laugh at you” since what led me to become educated and attain a PhD was the whispering of the spirit that prompted me to continue my education, to become a researcher, and to come to BYU (though I wanted to be elsewhere).

Unlike many of my peers, the spirit has always spoken to me. As an adult I have listened and, as completely as I possibly could, followed what the spirit said. These promptings led me to begin my teaching on the Navajo Reservation, to return to BYU and get a MA in English and work with Arthur Henry King, to (after marrying) work in Indiana as a reading specialist in a private clinic and then as a junior high English teacher, to seek a PhD at the University of Arizona, and to take my first position at Western Michigan and my second here at BYU. Each of these experiences prepared me to be the academic and scholar I am and to have the experiences that would prepare me to develop an educational research methodology (self-study of teaching practice) as well as the academic community that supports it, and foremost to work with others to create the Teaching English Language Learner program here on campus. In both venues, I have had many opportunities to serve others.

While I do not work with doctoral students here on campus, my affiliation with self-study of practice research and narrative inquiry have provided me with the opportunity to mentor many young scholars in the Netherlands, England, New Zealand, Canada, and other locations around the United States. As these people have joined the academy they have continued to seek me out for support and advice. I have also been able to use the TELL program as a vehicle to prepare teachers to work with English Language Learners in their regular classrooms. In this way, I have been able to support the ESL endorsement for over 6,000 teachers.

My aunt, a social worker, was a main source of inspiration for me. From my early childhood as she traversed rural Utah serving clients in remote areas, she took me along and our conversations focused on her thinking about how to support and help her clients in becoming reliant and self-supporting. She provided me in this way with the foundation of my knowledge for supporting development and understanding mental abnormality. I realize now that my understanding of how to help all kinds of people while honoring and respecting their humanity came from her. My academic mentors were Arthur Henry King and Melvin Luthy here at BYU during my MA program. Both of them helped me see for the first time that I was a thoughtful and intelligent person who had much to contribute. In my PhD program Walter Doyle and Sarah Dinham at the University of Arizona, along with Arthur Henry King, taught me what it meant to be a scholar. Their support of me and their voiced recognition of my talent and their mentoring are what led me to commit to being an academic, and I hope that my life as a scholar has in some way repaid some part of the debt I owe them for their time and patience.

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