KOKOMO, Ind. — It was the best graduation gift possible — a grown-up job.
For the last six years, since Thor Turner quit his factory job to pursue his dream, his wife has teased him about getting a grown-up career. As he earned his bachelor’s degree in education at Indiana University Kokomo, he also worked 40 hours a week in retail.
Turner, 30, graduated May 8, and accepted a teaching job May 9 at Wainwright Middle School in Lafayette.
“People have asked me why would I give up a good-paying job to go back to school,” he said. “Now, with my IU Kokomo degree, I have a job I can actually enjoy going to every day. I’m excited to start my new career.”
He was proud to participate in Commencement — especially with his mother in the audience — because he’s the first in his family to earn a college degree.
It’s a future Turner never would imagined for himself, growing up in Monticello. He described himself at that time as “immature,” applying himself only to earn the bare minimum grades to graduate and join the U.S. Marines. He enlisted immediately after graduation, served six years, and then returned to Indiana. He hired on at a factory, and seemed to have it made.
“I had first shift, which was perfect,” he said. “I made good money, but I’d had enough. I couldn’t sit for eight hours a day and do the same thing over and over. I knew I had to get out of there.”
Within a few weeks of finally deciding he wanted to be a teacher, he quit his job and enrolled in college.
He started with two summer classes, in communications and psychology, to test the waters. Six years out of high school, he was nervous, but found that not only did he enjoy college — he was good at it, and earned A+s in those first two classes.
“That felt nice,” he said, adding that he thinks that growing up and his time in the military helped him succeed. “I had a purpose to be there. I had a goal to teach science, math, or physics, and this is what I needed to do to achieve that goal.”
He commuted from Lebanon five days a week and found the upper-level classes were a challenge, but was worth it in the end.
“It wasn’t fun sometimes, working 40 hours and taking a full class load,” he said. “All that hard work means I can finally move on and do what I want to do.”
He found his niche during his student teaching at Southwestern Middle School — a placement he chose because he didn’t have any prior experience with middle school. Where many see that age as a challenge, Turner sees an opportunity.
“Middle school is where you get kids hooked on science,” he said. “It was wonderful. The kids were great, and the teachers treated me like I was one of them. I was excited to go to school every day.”
With his first teaching paycheck, he plans to resume a tradition from his previous job — spoiling his wife, Joanna, with little gifts.
“It’s been an ongoing joke with us that she can’t wait for me to get a grown-up job, so I can start buying her presents again,” he said, laughing. “She’s been so supportive of me while I’ve been in school, she deserves something nice.”
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.